In the future, time travel exists, but it’s illegal. Only crime bosses can manage to use the technology to send people they want killed back in time to be wiped out by specialized assassins called Loopers. A Looper will stand at a specific spot at a specific time with a shotgun and wait for their target to appear from the future so they can shoot them dead. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Dark Knight Rises, Brick) plays Joe, a Looper who has become very successful doing the future mob’s dirty work. That’s until he’s sent on a hit and the man on the other end of his shotgun is himself 30 years in the future (Bruce Willis). A moment of hesitation allows Old Joe to escape. His younger self is then forced to pursue and hunt him down before the people he works for kills him just to “close the loop.”
Now, that’s more or less the setup to the film. There’s a secondary storyline of what Old Joe is willing to do to make his freedom permanent. In the future, a terrible crime boss called The Rainmaker is wreaking havoc, and Old Joe believes that if he can kill him in the present, that he’ll be safe and his time-stream will snap back to normal.
In a weird way, I’ve been waiting for this film for the past six years. Since writer/director Rian Johnson’s debut film Brick came out, I’ve been in awe of him as a genre writer. Brick is a classic style film-noir set in a modern day high school. Johnson’s follow-up, The Brothers Bloom is a very fun con artist movie which has a distinct fantasy element. So, to have a writer who delights in writing genre, and actually be exceptional at it makes the idea of Johnson taking on a time travel film very exciting to me.
The script is great. There is a lot of gritty sci-fi here, with a definite gruesomeness set against the backdrop of a dirty, delinquent city. However, I was surprised to come across a level of comedy at work in Looper. The comedy isn’t forced at all, but instead aims to aid the characters in coping with the absurdity of having a conversation with yourself at either end of a 30 year period.
Rian Johnson’s script and directing style or only half of what makes Looper remarkable. The film is supported by an excellent cast. I’ve always been a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, and both are at the top of their game here. I imagine the film will face a lot of criticism over the choice to make Levitt physically look more like Willis. I’m not sure how they did it exactly. Possibly just a prosthesis, or a full on computer generated augmentation, but the effect is impressive. Sometimes it feels like Levitt is doing a Bruce Willis impersonation, but he pulls it off well.
Bruce Willis’s portrayal of the older Joe is a bit more complicated than the John McClanes of his filmmography. All of the characters tend to walk a line between hero and villain, but Old Joe is willing to do anything to get his life back. No matter how monstrous. Other notable performances come from Emily Blunt (The Five Year Engagement), and Jeff Daniels (HBO’s The Newsroom). Blunt plays Sara, a farmer who finds herself caught in the middle of Joe’s battle with himself. She’s strong, passionate, and independent, but with a human side that makes her one of the more well-rounded and realistic characters in the film. Daniels plays Abe, a mobster from the future sent back in time to run the Loopers. When he gets bored of that, he casually conquers the city. Daniels doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but he makes his scenes count. There’s something extremely civilized about him that works to defy any gangster archetype he might have slipped into.
From start to finish, Looper is an amazingly cerebral yet fun film experience. It will keep you on the edge of your seat while forcing your brain to play keep up. There are arguably plot holes in the film, depending on how limited your perception of time travel may be, but I like to think that this world works much like that of Doctor Who, with events and people folding in on themselves in infinitely wonderful ways.