by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
We’ve had many films over the last couple decades that cover, or at least dabble with, the idea of time travel. Many times the formula for these films is very similar and it’s hard to really look at any of these ideas as feasible realities. The newest venture into the time travel realm is Looper, brought to us by director Rian Johnson. Looper delivers on all possible levels and its missteps are few and minor. It’s a rousing science-fiction/fantasy tale with a dose of hard-hitting drama, an edgy approach, and a smart script that was crafted with care and an attention to detail.
The majority of the action unfolds around 2044 in Kansas. The world isn’t that different from what it is today. The cities are bigger and dirtier, but rural living is much the same. There are still corn fields, single family houses, and axes for chopping wood. The criminal element is gaining power, but they do not have the oppressive power they will obtain thirty years in the future. By the early 2070s, time travel has been discovered, but it is illegal and used only by the most powerful criminals. Human bodies cannot be disposed of in the future, so those who are in trouble with the mob are sent back in time to 2044, where they are met by a “looper” with a shotgun. He finishes the job, takes his reward (bars of silver strapped to the victim), and waits for his next assignment. When the decision is made to terminate a looper’s contract, he is sent a future version of himself to eliminate (“closing the loop”). Once he has completed that task, the clock is ticking on thirty years of life.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. In fact, he’s not just any looper, he’s one of the best in the small stable run by gang lord Abe (Jeff Daniels). There comes a time, however, when Joe makes the mistake of harboring a friend, Seth (Paul Dano), who screws up when his future self is sent and the present-day Seth fails to kill him. Soon after that, Joe is given an assignment that puts him face-to-face with his future self (Bruce Willis). When he hesitates, Old Joe knocks him out and goes on the run. This puts Joe in a bad position. Unless he rectifies things quickly, he will end up dead, not just in the future, but in the present as well. A brief conversation with Old Joe gives him some clues about his aged self’s intentions and a location where he will eventually go. So Joe travels there, not to protect Sara (Emily Blunt), the woman who owns the house, or her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), but to stop Old Joe and restore his life. And he has a distinct advantage in any confrontation: he can kill his future self but Old Joe can’t reciprocate.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to grow as an actor with each performance, and despite having facial prosthetics to make him appear more “Bruce Willis-like,” this is no exception. This is not an easy role as it requires him to spend a majority of the movie as an anti-hero. He is, after all, a cold-blooded assassin. Despite that, we develop a connection with him as the seeds of something nobler begin to sprout. For the most part, Willis’ performance in Looper is dramatic, but he gets an opportunity to kick ass big-time. One of the great strengths of the film is that it gives Willis, like Gordon-Levitt, a variety of opportunities to transcend stereotypes. He is provided not only with action sequences, but scenes of intense dramatic power. There’s a moment when you may loathe Old Joe, but as conveyed by Willis, perhaps no more than he loathes himself. And with that hatred comes a disturbing understanding.
Looper has most of the elements that all good films have. The screenplay is clever and intelligent; it piqued my interest and kept me involved. The characters are well-rounded and powerfully portrayed. There’s plenty of action and suspense, and even a little humor and romance mixed in. Looper accomplishes what top-notch cinema should do: it diverts, entertains, and enriches. We are taken on a full emotion ride and there are some deeper questions that are brought up which I, myself, would have a hard time answering. And because Looper is such a well-rounded film and hits on all levels, it receives my seal of approval.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars