One of the most difficult things to pull off in modern day movies is a successful time travel story. Many entries in that subgenre of science fiction have tried admirably but inevitably have collapsed under the weight of their own lofty ambitions. Looper is an inventive and expertly crafted new film that is surprising, exciting, and succeeds because it focuses more on its characters and less on the mechanics of its time travel device. It’s an extremely smart two hours and resolves in a way that’s somehow both wholly satisfying and completely unexpected. In a world where original ideas are becoming more and more rare, Looper arrives as a high concept sci-fi film that is as entertaining as it is thought provoking.
In 2074 time travel will be invented, then outlawed, then illegally used by gangsters who send the people they need to “get rid of” thirty years in the past to be disposed of without a trace. In 2044 the victims arrive in front of mob assassins called “loopers” who execute their targets without blinking. It’s in the looper’s contract that he or she will eventually kill their own future selves, effectively “closing their loop” and ending their employment. The killing business is going well for Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) until the day comes when it’s his turn to encounter the future version of himself (Bruce Willis), at which point things spiral out of control for the younger man. Where things go from here I wouldn’t dare say, but even if you’ve seen all the trailers you won’t know where this movie will take you.
There’s a bit of clunky voice over narration at the start to explain the rules of the world in 2044 (I’m always of the opinion that it’s better to show than to tell) and the prosthetic effects used on Joseph Gordon-Levitt to make him resemble a younger Bruce Willis are kind of distracting. Those are my few minor complaints about a movie that excels in pretty much every other area; the acting is top-notch and the screenplay is solid (even during the moments where the action slows down considerably to allow for some character development) and at times extremely clever. It’s easy to take Willis for granted as he usually does more or less the same thing in most of his movies, but in Looper (and also in the excellent Moonrise Kingdom from earlier this year) he gives a deeper and more emotional performance than we’ve come to expect from him - he’s tasked with the difficult job of making his character sympathetic to the audience even as he does some terrible things. There isn’t a second where you don’t believe the pain in his heart from the loss of his true love and his conviction to do anything and everything to stop the bad things in his future from happening.
Looper is only the third feature film by Rian Johnson. The young auteur broke through big time with the high school noir Brick in 2005 (which launched Gordon-Levitt into the current grown-up chapter of his career) and followed his debut with the underrated The Brothers Bloom starring Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo. Johnson has also directed some standout episodes of TV’s “Breaking Bad” (he helmed the fantastic “Fly” episode in season three) and with growing box office receipts and critical acclaim he’s only going to go up from here. I liked Looper a lot – it’s visually attractive, psychologically a little trippy and doesn’t contain any superfluous moments. I think this movie is going to resonate with people and will likely be spoken of years from now as a recent sci-fi classic, a potential genre game changer along the lines of Inception (although I’m partial to the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller Source Code as well.) Any second-hand explanation from anyone in the world isn’t going to do this one justice; Looper is a ride that needs to be experienced on the big screen.
LOOPER - Official Trailer - In Theaters 9/28