“Looper” is a sharp, heavily detailed and emotionally affecting science-fiction thriller. As with most time-travel movies, it’s best not to get bogged down in the details of the actual mechanics. Trust me, you will be able to find small (or large, I suppose, depending on your prerogative) plot holes when breaking down the details of the story. The greatness of “Looper” lies in how easily these moments are to miss because the plot and characters are so fascinating, and the world-building so inventive.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has become very reliable at giving strong, likable performances. We find him here sporting some odd looking prosthetics/makeup in an effort to make him look more like Bruce Willis, who plays the older version of the same character. This doesn’t really succeed, but it does make him look less like himself, so we’ll call it a wash. Both Willis and Levitt are convincing, and are joined by a great cast including Jeff Daniels, who does some great work with his limited screen time.
The plot essentially involves the character of “Joe” being a hitman for the mob in what to the audience is the future. The twist? These hitmen are tasked with killing marks from 30 years further into the future. You see, time-travel has been invented in that time, but has been outlawed and only those powerful mob bosses have control of it. Since it’s harder to get away with killing people and disposing of bodies in the future, the poor souls are sent back in time to get killed in “Young Joe’s” present. These hitmen, called “Loopers”, eventually will have to kill their future selves to complete the loop, and live out their last 30 years with a ton of cash to spend.
Immediately noticeable from the first act of “Looper” is what a great job was done creating this future world. Unlike many other films (especially ones from the 70’s and 80’s), there are no exaggerated technologies that have taken the world over. You won’t see flying cars or human-like cyborgs or hand-held weapons that are essentially laser/ray guns. One of the big successes is how believable this world is. There’s still banged-up “old” vehicles, standard handguns, similar fashion, and the like. Things are different, but not too different. A lot of imagination clearly went into taking our existing luxuries and naturally extending them. This makes the few things that are very different, such as how some people having developed minor telekinetic abilities, much easier to believe and understand in the context of the world. Even one of the major set pieces of the film is a farmhouse that could just as well take place in our past other than the newer technology used to tend to the fields. It all works brilliantly.
The best science fiction movies (and not coincidentally, my favorite movies in general) are ones that do not pander or seek to beat the audience over the head with its point. “Looper” is one of those films. There’s plenty to digest long after it is over, including a somewhat daring climax that is sure to incite a wide spectrum of reactions. Beyond just the ending are the fascinating implications of the plot. The way that Young and old Joe are at odds with how to rectify the situation gives us an easy way to identify how our choices can have far reaching implications.
As for the aforementioned time-travel device, I can say without spoilers that a welcome effort was made to establish certain rules in the universe, and these rules are never broken. That is all we can really ask of a premise such as this, but what’s also important to note is that the “gimmicks” are revealed in the story in such a natural manner. There is no “now we need to be told about ___” moments where the entire plot stops in order to provide us meaningful exposition. Everything flows together nicely from scene to scene, never getting too bogged down with the drama nor boring us with overly long action scenes. The pacing is tight and exciting without being a random overload on the senses.
A word also must be said regarding the effectively directed action scenes. There are some seriously unnerving moments here, though it is hardly what I would classify as an “action film”. When it happens, though, it is gritty, realistic, and best of all, completely void of distracting CGI. I can’t recall a moment that took me out of the world, which is rare. Considering the budget on this flick was hardly blockbuster friendly, it was money efficiently spent.
Director Rian Johnson incorporated the smart “noir” style of his previous picture “Brick” into “Looper”, and it ends up as a resounding success both as an edge-of-your-seat action thriller and as an interesting story with well designed characters. It most impressively succeeds as a true science fiction piece. Much like “Inception” (Are you noticing a trend with these Gordan-Levitt flicks? Dude knows how to pick ’em), it manages to take some heady and would-be confusing concepts but make them accessible to a wide audience. There’s enough here to work on it’s own on an entertainment level, but there’s so much more to it. It is easily one of the best movies of the year.
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