Time travel has got to be one of the trickiest things to write about. Period. It takes a certain level of imagination to be able to get it right. Looper? Yeah, Looper gets it right. We’ve all fantasized about going back in time and changing our past to have a better future, but Looper shows us the dangers of that kind of thinking and how it’s not just our future we’re affecting, but somebody else’s.
Looper brings us the story of Joe (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a specialized hitman whose job is simple. Joe just stands in the middle of a field with a shotgun and wait for the target to show up, kill them, take the silver that’s strapped to them, dispose of the body, and then do whatever he wants. The reason why Joe is a specialized assassin stems from the fact that all of his targets are from the future, where time travel has been invented and declared illegal. Bodies are difficult to dispose of and time travel is the quickest way to make a body disappear. The hitmen who take care of the targets from the future are called Looper. They are paid extremely well, but with a massive catch to it all. After a Looper has served their purpose they will be sent their future self with a gold payout. As Joe puts it early on in the movie, it’s a job that doesn’t attract the most forward thinking people. The payout is good, but the price is comes with is always on the mind of the looper. When Joe faces his future self (played by Bruce Willis) he is overpowered. As both Joes are put on the run from the mob the future Joe sets out to change his past, with consequences that neither side sees coming.
Looper is most certainly not Back to the Future. In fact it has more in common with Blade Runner in terms of tone and the questions it puts forth. It asks hard questions, particularly about those who live violent lives. Just as violence affects more than one person, Looper acknowledges that changing the past doesn’t just affect one person’s future. The movie also offers a unique question: if you could go back in time and kill Hitler, but could only kill him as a baby, would you? It may seem like an easy question fr soem but the movie faces the practicality of trying to act on such an answer.
The sci-fi in this film is not over the top. It’s very subdued in the name of reality. With the exception of time travel the technology featured in Looper is stuff that does not seem that far off. This keeps the audience invested in the story and doesn’t set out to put them in a constant state of awe at the future. It doesn’t serve as a distraction. This is a future that seems, almost unfortunately, possible.
Let’s talk about the acting. It needs to be said first and foremost that this isn’t a “Levitt vs. Willis” slug fest with time travel thrown in. The pair actually has less than twenty minutes on screen together. Writer/Director Rian Johnson sees to it that the story is never diluted into something it isn’t. This isn’t a “star vehicle”. This is a movie that shows two of Hollywood’s best at the top of their game. This one of Levitt’s stronger performances, especially after the Dark Knight Rises. He isn’t just doing a Bruce Willis impression for two hours. He’s picked up on Willis’ nuances and body language. And he nails Willis’ voice perfectly. He makes it believable that he would age into being Willis one day. As for Willis, this is easily his best performance since Unbreakable. What makes his performance extraordinary is the fact that Willis shows sign of the risktaker he was in the early days of his career. He’s not just banking on his reputation as one of Hollywood’s best action stars. He goes to some dark places in this movie and it’s a welcome change to his recent status quo.
It also needs to be said that Jeff Daniels does a very good job as Abe, the mob boss in the present who sets up the system in Looper to begin with. Emily Blunt also gives a strong performance, and child actor Pierce Gagnon delivers a shockingly mature performance for a kid his age. There is not a bad acting job in this movie.
Looper is a wonderfully dark and thoughtful sci-fi film that gives us our decade’s sci-fi film. Looper is easily the best sci-fi film of the last five years, at least. It has everything one would want in a movie. I very strongly recommend it and this has just pushed Rian Johnson into my list of favorite directors. He had my attention after seeing his noir masterpiece Brick, but Looper cements him as one of my favorites.
If you want to check out Rian Johnson’s debut film Brick, then pick it up here. It is definitely worth it and ranks as one of my top twenty favorite films.