Directed By: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Qing Xu, Garret Dillahunt
Yes, a good portion of the fun of a sci-fi movie is getting to go off to different worlds, see cool gadgets and experience the impossible, but there’s just so many times we can watch people fly, cars hover and characters time travel before the surreal loses appeal. However, toss a little authenticity, heart and sheer terror into the mix, and all of those genre basics get a new life courtesy of a wholly believable and enthralling story, just like in “Looper.”
The year is 2044, but the world exists well beyond that. Down the line, in 2074, it’s impossible for mobs to kill people and dispose of the bodies so they hire Loopers and have them take care of the dirty work back in 2044. The 2074 folks nab their target, zap them back to the past, and the Looper blows them away.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a successful Looper, living the good life in 2044. He wakes up, kills his target, collects his pay, heads out to the club with his Looper buddies, and does it all again the next day. Trouble is, someone in the future is messing with his routine and closing loops. Rather than receiving nameless targets, many Loopers are coming face to face with their future selves. The same rules apply and they’re expected to off their older selves, closing the loop, and then living out the time they’ve got left, 30 years. Sure enough, Joe’s time comes, but before he can do his duty, older Joe (Bruce Willis) bolts.
It’s complicated yet so simple. Rian Johnson has this new world down to a tee, but rather than show off how well he thought out the scenario, he keeps time travel talk and blatant future references to a minimum. With the focus on the characters instead of flashy gadgets and plot twists, everything blends together seamlessly, putting you in an environment that’s wildly creative yet exceptionally authentic. When something seems real, it feels real and when a movie like “Looper” feels real it takes on a foreboding quality in addition to the action and suspense guaranteed in the trailers. The combination is relentless and all consuming.
Johnson pulls you in hard within the first few minutes of the film, offering up a look at what the Loopers do, specifically, the killing part. Once he’s got you, he doesn’t let go, letting that powerful opening bleed right into a more detailed look at the life of a Looper. Between the combination of Gordon-Levitt’s voice over and the stunning visuals, this portion of the film has the feel of a promotional video, like one aiming to sell a dream vacation or sleep away camp. And then, once you’re as ready as ever to drink the Kool-Aid, disaster strikes and that fantasy crumbles, just like it does for Joe.
While “Looper” never loses it’s footing as far as plot clarity goes, once Willis’ Joe arrives in 2044, more acute attention is required. The story belongs to young Joe, but Johnson weaves in old Joe’s flashbacks, providing an expansive view of Joe as well as his predicament. While it never really feels like young Joe and old Joe are the same person, it’s somewhat appropriate as the two are in very different places of their lives and have different priorities. Thanks to some solid character development, you wind up rooting for both old and young Joe. Complicating matters further, Johnson is constantly blurring the lines between good and evil. He doesn’t merely label one the protagonist and the other the antagonist, rather proposes two men who are fighting for noble causes, but causes that aren’t cut and dry, forcing you to assess the situation yourself.
And just wait until you get to Emily Blunt’s portion of the film. Perhaps this part of the film is worth a spoiler discussion, but in attempt at keeping this review spoiler free, I’ll just tell you that you’ll never see this coming. Not only does Sara offer a little comic relief, but she’s tough as nails, prepared to arm up whenever necessary to defend her own. And watch out for Pierce Gagnon. That kid can act! As for the other supporting characters, Paul Dano stands out as Joe’s best Looper friend, Seth. He’s got a fantastic sequence that’s pivotal to establishing the film’s tone and upping the stakes immensely. Noah Segan’s performance as Kid Blue is also quite memorable, stealing the spotlight a bit from Jeff Daniel’s character, Abe. Abe is the boss of the Loopers and Kid Blue is his wannabe henchman. He’s violent, desperate, but not particularly skilled, making him a volatile player.
“Looper” is a special entry into the sci-fi genre. It isn’t flashy, it isn’t desperately trying to impress with visual effects and has no intentions of outsmarting the viewer, rather Johnson presents a world that’s wholly digestible, but ever changing, keeping you from getting all of the information in one straight shot, and forcing you to keep on your toes and adapt to the situation. It’s more than a clever idea and entertaining experience; it’s a film that offers just enough beyond that to make it a fun watch, but also make it tough to forget.