Big throttle time travel movies entail stopping an event - or trying to stop it - that literally destroys or shakes up the world. 12 Monkeys, the best time travel movie ever made, in my opinion - and also starring Bruce Willis, the big name star of Looper - does this end-of-the-world business par excellence. Source Code and Deja Vu don't involve apocalypse, but the time traveler strives to prevent events that would kill lots of people.
Close-knit time travel movies focus more on human relationships. The Time Traveler's Wife is a strong example, as is The Butterfly Effect, and, for that matter, Peggy Sue Got Married. Looper would be on the violent end of this realm - people get killed, and crime abounds, but the heart and soul of the story, as we're correctly told in the last scene, is love, of husband for wife, and mother for son.
The set-up is a 2072 world in which the mob has to find a better way of killing people, because bodies and their histories are too easily traced. The fortunate invention of time traveling provides a solution - send the body back in time 30 years, where it can be killed, and nobody in the future will be the wiser. The only loose ends are the killers 30 years in the past. As they grow older, they provide a growing cadre of witnesses to the mob boss's executions. But there's a solution to this problem, too: when the killers get older, send them back so their younger killing selves can kill the older version. Why would the youngos do this? Their older versions are sent back with a ton of money, which allow the young killers to live high on the hog for 30 years. Given the impetuousness of youth, it's a safe bet that this system is working.
But not that safe, and Looper tells the story of what happens when the older version of the killer - Old Joe - breaks free of the death cycle, and comes to see that the best way of staying alive and saving his beloved wife is to kill the mob boss and end the whole insane business. This requires meetings between Old Joe and Young Joe, and we get some good time travel epistemology here. Old Joe knows that his very meeting with Young Joe will change who Old Joe is and what he remembers. In an excellent scene, he explains that all of his memories are now fuzzy, because they're in jeopardy of being erased or replaced by the interaction of the two Joes, and they become clear only at the moment that young Joe actually does something.
That kind of carefully plotted time travel reasoning always wins me over, and shows that the movie is worth watching. The resolution of the movie is heart-rending but also in good logical shape in the way the future is changed so it does not have a Murder, Inc across time.
Of course, as is the case with all things time travel - and its most endearing quality, I'd say - there is and can be no ultimately satisfactory resolution. Because if the sending of people back in time to be killed is stopped, then there would be no old or young Joe, because there would be no looping killers, and therefore no movie. But, hey, this can't be helped when you jump onto the horns of paradox.
Meanwhile, on the acting ledger - Bruce Willis is ok, Piper Perabo (of Covert Affairs) is ok too, but it was little Pierce Gagnon who just stole the show.
Praise for the novel...
"...challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly
"Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News
"...a fun book to read" - Dallas Morning News
"resonates with the current political climate . . . . heroine Sierra Waters is sexy as hell . . . . there's a bite to Levinson's wit" - Brian Charles Clark, Curled Up With A Good Book at curledup.com
"a journey through time that'll make you think as it thrills ... so accessible, even those generally put off by sci-fi should enjoy the trip." - Rod Lott, bookgasm.com
"Levinson spins a fascinating tale ... An intriguing premise with believable characters and attention to period detail make this an outstanding choice... Highly recommended." - Library Journal,*starred review
"Light, engaging time-travel yarn . . . neatly satisfies the circularity inherent in time travel, whose paradoxes Levinson links to Greek philosophy." - Publishers Weekly
"A thinking person's time travel story... I felt like I was there." - SF Signal