Looper is the best sci-fi movie of the year so far. There, it’s been said. Rian Johnson’s latest is slick, inventive and at times explosive, culminating in a film that challenges its audience to think outside the box. This is a movie that’s smart, scary and romantic, offering a little piece of everything to chew on. Reinventing the time-travel movie while paying homage to the best before it, Looper feels like multiple films rolled into one; a tight, hip, deliciously engaging thriller that will leave you wondering about your own future self and whether they’ll be as foreign to you as the future is to us now.
The basic rundown of it goes like this: In the year 2074, time travel exists but it’s been outlawed, and the only ones using it are the Mob. They covertly send people they want whacked back in time 30 years to a “Looper” (or hired gun) who does the job for them, and gets rid of the body in another time period so there’s no evidence. When the Mob of the future no longer has any need for a particular Looper, they send the Looper’s future self back in time to get whacked by their younger self, effectively closing the person’s loop. Once their future self is dead, the Looper is given a nice chunk of change and sent on their merry way to live out the next 30 years however they wish. Seems pretty cut and dry, unless, of course, a Looper’s older self somehow gets away from his younger assassin, thereby leaving two of the same person running around in the same time period.
That’s exactly what happens to Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a play-by-the-rules Looper whose future self (Bruce Willis) manages to escape, forcing Joe to go off in search of his target to make right what he got wrong before his boss’ citywide manhunt ends with both versions of Joe dead. But the older Joe, played by Willis, has his own agenda, and instead uses his time in the past to seek out those who wronged him and his loved ones in the future. So, essentially, we have two versions of the same character fighting to change both their present and future before each time period catches up to them in the most unsavory of ways.
Confused yet? Don’t be, because that intertwining web is what makes Looper such a fascinating watch… and I haven’t even mentioned the other crucial parts of the story, which involve Sara (Emily Blunt) and her mysterious child, who may hold the key to unraveling this entire twisty tale.
For his third feature, Rian Johnson proves he’s evolved into the kind of director who can tackle big ideas with big budgets, and yet still make them feel somewhat small and personal. Looper is definitely his most commercial venture yet, but it still manages to squeeze in elements from his first two films, Brick and The Brothers Bloom, dangling pieces of hard-boiled noir, unexpected humor and wild adventure over a box wrapped in romance. All of Johnson’s films have been about love at their core, and Looper – which bookends with the Chuck & Mac song, “Powerful Love” -- is no exception. This film packs more heart than it does heat, and that's a good thing.
What’s most impressive about Looper isn’t its loopy (pun!) storyline or the freaky things they did to Gordon-Levitt to make him look more like Bruce Willis – it’s instead in the way the film toys with our own emotions and expectations, as we go back and forth rooting for and against different versions of the same character. Johnson wisely (and comically) uses dialogue in the film that in a way speaks directly to the audience, telling them not to get caught up in all the little time-travel details because that’s not what Looper is about. It’s about these characters and their personal journey; it’s about family, love and hope. It’s about having faith even though you know things aren’t going to turn out well. When you invest in those aspects of the story, you’ll find Looper is a lot more fulfilling. Sure, there are unanswered questions and details that will bug you at times, but all they do is add up to more reasons why you want to watch the film again, and then again.
The performances are strong, especially from a tough, potty-mouthed Emily Blunt and a scene-stealing Jeff Daniels (who plays Gordon-Levitt's Mob boss), while Johnson's direction feels fun, fresh and old-fashioned all at once. His is a future that's advanced, but realistic about those advancements -- one full of crime and poverty, but also of beauty and simplicity. It may, in fact, be just like our own future, which is probably a bit ominous, but at least it'll now include this movie.
So we've got that going for us.