Right off the bat, you can tell Looper is going to be different. Its edgy approach reinvents and, for the most part, rejects standard Hollywood formula. Director Rian Johnson is the guy who brought us new lingo and changed the face of noir with Brick, followed up with the con-man tale The Brothers Bloom which was only mildly entertaining. Third time’s a charm as Looper delivers on all possible levels while its gaffes are few and forgivable. It's an exciting science fiction action yarn with a dose of tongue-in-cheek drama, an engaging script and a down right wacky idea overall.
The majority of Looper’s action takes place in Kansas circa 2044, setting up the more distant future (the early 2070s) when time travel is outlawed and only used by criminals to send other bad guys back to be eliminated by a team of hit-men called Loopers. Basically Loopers wait in a corn field and when the mark from the future shows up— bam!—they blow him away and dispose of the body, collecting the silver bars strapped to the victim’s back in form of payment. It’s a time travel/waste management deal. The Looper’s code and only rule is that you “never let your target escape” even if that target happens to be you. When the decision is made to terminate a Looper's contract, he is sent a future version of himself to eliminate. This is called “closing the loop.” Once he has completed that task, he’s got 30 years to live. A Czar (Jeff Daniels) is there to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Josh Gordon-Levitt (Inception) plays Joe, a Looper waiting out his contract, cashing in and biding his time, hanging out with other drugged out assassins, cruising in expensive vehicles and going clubbing. Things don’t go as planned, however. Both his older self (Bruce Willis) and his younger self go on the run in an attempt to alter their collective fate.
Once you get the hang of Looper, it’s about the next surprise. Bullets fly, blood spurts, people say smart things and experience real painful emotions amidst this hugely underlying dark humor. Johnson really cashes in on Willis’ action star status by overdoing a hilarious gun blazing battle. But this is clearly Gordon-Levitt’s movie all the way. With prosthetic help, Gordon-Levitt is altered to resemble a young Willis. He scrunches up his eyebrows, gravels his voice a little and seems to always be almost on the brink of a smirk… in other words a damn fine Willis impersonation.
Time travel movies are tricky. There are questionable choice, and it’s hard to convince us that playing with our past doesn’t alter the events of things to come. The main question is handled with some finesse: If the loop is closed on you, did you ever exist? Or did you live your younger life up until the point you kill your older self? This riddle is what both fuels and constrains the story. But Looper remains compelling. It gets pretty convoluted, but played with such integrity that it pays off. Still, I kept wondering when someone was just going to disappear because the past had changed.
Thanks to the original screenplay and wild ideas conveyed through ingenious camera work, we remain riveted and want to know how this will all play out. Sadly, the end is a little too easy and kind of a let down, but due to the overall style and tone of this flick it fits right in. This kind of movie requires total suspension of disbelief, and even though Looper has a ton of holes, we overlook them because we’ve invested so much time just to understand the rules of the game.
Looper is a thinking man’s action-packed art flick. Go figure. I never knew there was one of those in my future.
3 1/2 Stars
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon
Written and directed by Rian Johnson