I went to this movie knowing full well that I would like it. Bruce Willis claimed that it was the "best film [he had] ever been in," which is a pretty tall claim for an actor immortalized by a span of works that is not only great, but crowned by "Die Hard", commonly acknowledged as not only the definitive Bruce Willis movie (which it is), but the definitive action movie of all time. So with that in mind, this is a pretty tall claim from one of the trusted big guns that was put into this film. However, it immediately put me into a mindset to set my expectations higher that I otherwise would have and I went in thinking I was going to see a good film, and while not Bruce's best movie it would certainly be one of his better ones.
In that regard, I think my assumptions hit the mark. Looper was very well made with professional direction. The flow was spot-on and it was just right for a time-travel movie. For people who dislike predictability, it avoids obvious plot developments for the most part and keeps the audience guessing while staying clear of far-out plot developments. Considering that this is a time-travel film, things could have very easily gone that way and tried too hard to emulate another hit movie like Inception, but it tones down on modern expectations for a convoluted story and takes an approach that, in hindsight, was surprisingly straightforward, though it doesn't seem like it at the time. So I'm proud to report that the narrative played things straight and yet the movie still managed to keep the audience going with a continuous wonder for what waited just around the corner. It's certainly not one of those films where you can predict everything that's going to happen just through a collection of advertisements and basic assumptions about the pitch. Even if you're like my mother - who's the Nostradamus of moviegoers - and predicted everything (because some of us are just better at figuring out what the storyteller wants to do with his story than others) and nothing necessarily comes as a surprise, it's still a welcome change from the typical flat movie narrative.
As far as that whole journey is concerned, there are many moments throughout the film, and for that matter many acts where objectives of the main characters and the direction of the story seem to change, so at any given point the film is strong, not just at the beginning and at the end. The directly spread out his investment. The only part that I thought was completely unnecessary was a scene where for about a full half a minute the main character, Joe, is with a topless stripper. It didn't add much to the story and it broke the narrative. For a moment another sexual scene later on got to me, where there was no nudity but certainly passionate kissing followed by bedtime, but there was an underlying humor in the acting and screenplay that made it quite funny, thus contributing to the movie's many moments. Another thing I might have questioned was the exposition at the beginning - straight narration. However, I realized as soon as it was over that the narration discussed the reasons for time travel that couldn't just be shown. Considering that the narration was supported by scenes, however, there was still some showing to counter the telling, and really, once I thought about it, given the complexities of the initial set-up, taking the time to explain purely through showing and contrived in-story exposition would have disrupted the forward movement of the narrative, so it was best just to get people into the story fast.
The gem of the movie's little moments, however, go to the main character, Joe. That should be easy to remember, considering that Young Joe is played by a Joe, and Old Joe is played by Bruce Willis, who's played more than one character of the same name. That's not to say that the main character will be remembered. He didn't receive much characterization, unlike other figures like the Terminator, and the hyperbolic Batman. However, the movie will certainly be remembered for the great performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. Bruce Willis was at the top of his game and the director knew how to bring the best strokes of talent out of this particular actor. Yes, that includes an obligatory "Expendables" moment where Old Joe ceases to be an annoyance and the villainous Looper gang realizes that they're dealing with fire from heaven, an unstoppable juggernaut, a one-man army, their personal judgment day, or what have you. It was a pretty simple shout-out to the actor and the legendary class of action heroes he comes from, and it was well-deserved after the character earned it through a number of other cool moments.
Now there's a reason why Joe doesn't receive much characterization. At first I thought he was going to be nothing more than the typical modern anti-hero, a guy who does drugs and wastes himself while saving the day. However, I was surprised to find that I actually ended up liking him, and given the time-traveling nature of the film he actually developed in multiple ways. Old Joe is considerably different from Young Joe, which is shown through a brief collage of the events of his life, which speak enough for themselves. That could have easily been overdone, but I think I like it the way it was because more characterization would have actually been redundant and the director decided to tell the story of the character more through the performance, as I said before. Meanwhile, Old Joe still develops even after it's established that he's changed a lot since his "present day" Young Joe counterpart, and whether he's being a hero or a villain protagonist at that point is a subject for debate. Young Joe, meanwhile, also develops in ways that Old Joe did not anticipate. So overall, there are a few branches to the character's development, and some of it flat-out contradicts itself. It also creates an interesting dynamic where the two versions of the character conflict with each other, which is a very interesting chemistry to watch.
Overall, I can see why Bruce Willis held this film in high esteem. The director really allowed him to all-out with his performance (a word that has grown redundant in this review, I know), created a fun time-travel film, and put together a solid piece of work with the combination of a good plot and really good storytelling. In fact, there were moments where the movie reminded me of Terminator and Back to the Future in a philosophical storytelling sense. Granted, however, it lacks the same simplicity and iconic music (I recall nothing of the film's soundtrack whatsoever), but some of the elements of style are similar, and to no surprise I found a statement from director Rian Johnson saying that Looper references them, as well as other movies like 12 Monkeys and Primer. It's not an icon and hardly the best movie in a year with astounding movies, but it's definitely worth seeing. I'd classify it as a Bruce Willis movie that will be well remembered (the future for Young Joe is a little more difficult to predict), a movie with very good storytelling that doesn't make its style too conspicuous. It could have used a few tricks from the Silent Era if it wanted to be grander, but otherwise I'm perfectly fine with this being a low-key but otherwise sound picture.