Looper is an interesting, inbetween sort of film. A seamless blend of time-travel sci-fi, crime and action, it tells the story of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis), a looper – a contract killer destined to one day kill his own future self.
If you’ve not seen Looper, I’ll offer a brief explanation of the film’s premise. In the near(ish) future, time travel is yet to be invented. But thirty years after that, in the year 2074, it has been, and its used by criminals to dispose of unwanted people. These future criminals bind, gag and blindfold their victims before sending them back to 2044, where contract killers – known as loopers – kill and dispose of them. Each looper’s job is subject to a particular clause – one day, they will find their payday for a kill is much larger, meaning that they’ve just killed their own future self. This is known as ‘closing your loop’, and it’s something that all loopers expect to confront sooner or later.
Joe’s future self (Willis) isn’t willing to play ball though, and he escapes, leaving the younger Joe (Gordon-Levitt) attempting to track and kill him in order to placate his furious employers, who are out for his blood.
Future Joe is on his own crusade, though, and it’s one that will drastically alter the future: he’s going to find and kill the future head of the criminal organisation, known only as ‘The Rainmaker’, in order to save his future wife.
While all that might sound a little confusing, it’s actually written and presented in such expert fashion that it all actually feels rather simple. Looper manages to iron out many of the wrinkles you’d expect from a mind-bending time-travelling escapade without ever really lifting a finger, something which should be credited to writer/director Rian Johnson. It’s all far more cohesive than it has any right to be, and that unexpectedly insightful approach to time-travel makes Looper one of the most original and well-conceived sci-fi films of recent years.
It’s not all time-travel, though. In fact, that element of the plot is over and done with rather quickly, and only a small amount of screen-time is afforded to the explanation of how it all works. Instead, Looper‘s story is one that closely examines Joe’s relationship with himself, in the past, in the present, and in the murky grey space between the two.
I can’t muster any valid criticisms for the film’s writing. Its plot is engaging and deeply interesting, it’s filled with great moments of action and emotion, and there’s a solid vein of well-written dialogue throughout. All this is brought to life by a number of impressive performances, with Gordon-Levitt in particular stealing the show with his uncanny approximation of a young Bruce Willis’ mannerisms.
Despite its grounding in science fiction, Looper is a singularly organic film. After their introduction, both iterations of its protagonist start fighting for control of the story’s wheel in a way that brilliantly reflects our deeply flawed human nature, something which becomes abundantly clear as we watch Joe become increasingly at odds with himself. It’s smart, sleek and decently understated, allowing us to read as far into the story as we’d like: on its surface, there’s plenty of action and appropriately high stakes, but look deeper and there’s a number far larger questions being asked.
For a sci-fi flick, the special effects are kept to a minimum, but what there is holds up incredibly well. A special mention of the prosthetics used to make Gordon-Levitt more closely resemble Willis deserves to be made, as they’re both subtle and remarkably accurate.
Overall, Looper is one of those films that you can examine in any number of ways, and come up with more or less the same conclusion: it’s intelligent, entertaining and excellently put-together.
Summary: Smart sci-fi with heavy overtones of action-thriller, Looper achieves the near-impossible: time travel that’s easy to understand and (mostly) paradox free. It even wraps itself up into a neat, self-contained bow in a conclusion that’s at once heartbreaking and deeply satisfying.