Movie Review: Looper
Looper offers stylish escapism for the thinking man. A twist-laden plot rife with time-travel and sci-fi elements teases the intellect, and demands a second viewing to put all the pieces together. Even if you think you have the plot figured out, you most likely don’t. It would be a shame to ruin the fun with a detailed plot analysis, so I’ll give a brief summary.
The story is set in 2074, and time-travel has become a reality, but is illegal due to the implications of changing the past. A gang of mobsters headed by a mysterious leader dubbed “the rainman” has found a creative use for time travel. They send anyone they want assassinated back to 2044, where a “looper” promptly blows them away. Loopers work for the mob, and are compensated generously for their kills. The looper never sees his target, because a hood hides the target’s face. No mess, no cleanup and no nagging sense of guilt.
The kicker is that every looper eventually is called upon to ‘close their loop’, whereupon they (unknowingly) assassinate their future self. That gives them a good thirty years to enjoy their lives until they meet their predestined demise. It’s considered a grievous offense if you refuse to off your future self. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper who finds himself caught in that very dilemma when his future self (played by Bruce Willis) struggles mightily to survive. His impetuous for survival is revenge. So, young Joe wants to catch old Joe to clear his name, old Joe is hoping to extract revenge on an unknown person, and the mob is after both of them. In the midst of all this confusion, young Joe ends up on a farm in Kansas that is occupied by Sara (Emily Blunt), a fiery woman who knows how to handle a shotgun. Her appearance ends up being more than a mere coincidence.
This is director Rian Johnson’s third feature film (he previously directed Brick and The Brothers Bloom) and it has been simply amazing to watch him grow as a filmmaker. What really blows my mind is that he has written all three of his films. It takes tremendous talent to traverse genres, but Johnson seems to have done so effortlessly. Brick was a breakthrough film-noir, Brothers Bloom took a comical look at some career grifters and now he churns out this sci-fi thriller. I can’t wait to watch the rest of his career unfold.
Johnson still can’t demand a large budget, so his vision of the future is rather tame. Much looks the same, but anarchy is prevalent in the cities, where people indiscriminately kill one another. Johnson toys a lot with juxtaposition; motorcycles serve as hovercrafts, but loopers employ blunderbusses as their weapon of choice, and high-tech watches take a backseat to old-fashioned pocket watches. It’s an interesting contrast to the dystopian future we normally see. Sara’s farm is remarkably familiar. She still chops wood and grows crops.
Gordon-Levitt is physically transformed by some clever makeup. I still can’t decide if it was ultimately good or bad, but there is no mistaking the fact that he looks like a completely different person. He was made up to resemble a younger version of Bruce Willis, so his side profile (especially the nose) was modified, along with his hair and the appearance of his eyes. I swear at some times I couldn’t recognize him at all. Other times it feels like you are taking a stroll through the uncanny valley. It’s borderline distracting. However, it is evident he studied Willis’s mannerisms thoroughly. He captures the bemused expression, the squinted eyes and expressive forehead of Willis perfectly.
The cast works like a well-oiled machine. Jeff Daniels is perfect as the looper handler. He has the Ted Kaczynski look down pat. Blunt seemed like an odd choice for the heroine, but ultimately she works. Gordon-Levitt is always a delight, and it is kind of awesome to see action icon Bruce Willis in his role. The two work well together, particularly when they face-off for the first time in a diner.
It’s inevitable that Looper will get compared to Inception, but ultimately they are very different movies. I’m just grateful we have filmmakers willing to explore these frontiers in storytelling.