Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe
Bruce Willis as Old Joe
Emily Blunt as Sara
Paul Dano as Seth
Noah Segan as Kid Blue
Piper Perabo as Suzie
Jeff Daniels as Abe
Pierce Gagnon as Cid
Summer Qing as Old Joe’s Wife
Tracie Thoms as Beatrix
Frank Brennan as Old Seth
Garret Dillahunt as Jesse
Nick Gomez as Dale
Marcus Hester as Zach
Jon Eyez as Gat Men
Directed by Rian Johnson
“Looper” features a lot of familiar time travel themes, but the excellent cast, cool futuristic world, and thought-provoking plot make it feel like a fresh concept. It’s worth checking out on the big screen despite Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s makeup.
In the year 2072, time travel has been discovered. Due to the dire ramifications of messing with history, it was immediately banned. But when time travel is outlawed, only outlaws have time travel. Since science has made it practically impossible to hide a murder victim in the future, the mob uses time travel to send their victims back into the past to be killed and disposed of. This is done by hit men they employ in the year 2044 called “Loopers.”
Joe is one of these Loopers. He is sent a date and time, he shows up in an empty field, and when his victim appears out of nowhere, he shoots him. Joe is then paid in silver sent back with the body. It’s a great way to make a fortune, but there’s a catch. Since the mob doesn’t want any connection to the Loopers, they are killed if they live to the year 2072. And as an added touch, the young Loopers are made to kill their future selves. This is called “closing the loop.”
After many hits for the mob, Joe is shocked one day when his next victim appears and it is his future self. The older Joe surprises the younger Joe, knocks him out, and makes a run for it. Knowing the mob will do horrible things to him if he doesn’t kill his older self, Joe desperately goes on a mission to kill his future self. However, the older Joe is on a mission of his own.
“Looper” is rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use.
In writing, one of the most difficult things to do is find a story that hasn’t been told before. That is made even more challenging when you’re working within familiar genres like time travel. It almost feels like every possible time travel story has already been told. Yet “Looper” takes the stories that we’re already familiar with and presents them with a twist that’s fresh, exciting, and entertaining. In that respect it reminds me a lot of “Chronicle,” a film that didn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking but was pretty cool nonetheless. “Looper” takes elements from “Terminator,” “12 Monkeys,” “Timecop” and even hints of “Back to the Future” and blends them into something new. The end result is a film well worth checking out.
One of the things I liked about “Looper” was how thoroughly it explored the idea of time travel. It deals with the age old question of what would happen if you could go back in time and kill a baby Hitler. Would you do it to prevent World War II? It also deals with the implications of changing the past. What are the ramifications in the future of changing things now? But one of my favorite themes was the older self meeting the younger self. In a scene you’ve seen in the commercials and trailers, the older Joe looks at the younger Joe and tells him just how young, stupid, and shortsighted he is. You really see how time and experience has changed the character. Putting those two versions of the same character side by side is a fantastic moment and ends up being one of Bruce Willis’ best scenes in a long time.
But if the time travel genre wasn’t enough to explore, “Looper” also has some superhero elements with characters that have powers of telekinesis. This becomes a major plot point in the story and by the end you’ll see elements that will remind you of the aforementioned “Chronicle” and (for better or worse) “X-Men: The Last Stand.” There’s also a love story component to the plot that becomes a major motivation for one of the characters. All of this sounds like an awful lot to pack into one movie, but for the most part it works. Every time I thought “Looper” had settled into one genre or storyline, it would take a huge left turn and go in a completely different direction. “Looper” jumps around so much it keeps the audience on its toes unlike any other recent film. That makes it quite entertaining.
I also loved the fine attention to detail in this world of 2044, and a lot of it is just in the background and never pointed out. Everybody drives 2012 cars with modified gas tanks. The main drug of choice is taken by eye drops. Police drones patrol the city. Crop dusters are now flying robots. Cell phones are clear plastic squares. It’s this fine attention to detail that makes the world come alive and seem more realistic. It also makes you more willing to accept the less realistic ideas in the film like, say, time travel.
As fun as the story and production design are, the cast is a major reason “Looper” works. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a great performance as Joe, even with all of the ridiculous makeup on his face. He gives the character a lot of youthful heart, yet you also believe he could be a coldblooded hitman. Bruce Willis is also excellent as Old Joe. You completely buy him and his motivations. There’s also something greatly satisfying about seeing Bruce Willis shooting bad guys on the big screen. And what’s great about “Looper” is that as the story progresses, you keep flip flopping about which version of Joe to root for. At one point you cheer for young Joe, then another for old Joe, then back and forth a few more times. Willis and Gordon-Levitt totally make it work.
Among the supporting cast you’ll find Emily Blunt as Sara. Blunt shows off a pretty good American accent and also shows a bit of a tough side that I hadn’t seen from her before. Jeff Daniels also appears as Abe, a man from the future. Even though he’s one of the main villains, he’s still likable. Young Pierce Gagnon also plays Cid. While they say you shouldn’t work with kids or animals in Hollywood, director Rian Johnson manages to get a great performance out of the boy. Rounding out the cast are Paul Dano as fellow Looper Seth, Noah Segan as Kid Blue, and Piper Perabo as Suzie.
What Didn’t Work:
One big hang-up I had with “Looper” was the makeup on Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s supposed to make him look like a younger Bruce Willis, but it doesn’t. We’re so familiar with what Willis looked like in his younger years, the make-up doesn’t match that. Plus, we’re so familiar with Gordon-Levitt’s face that he just looks off in every scene. No matter how well he’s acting a scene, you can’t help but be ripped out of the moment. And what’s odd is we see both Paul Dano and Frank Brennan playing old and young versions of Seth, but no make-up is used there to make them look alike. We just accept that they are the same character and move on. I really think Joseph Gordon-Levitt should have played the role without the makeup and the audience would have to suspend their disbelief, just like with the time travel.
Once the movie is over, you also start seeing some apparent plot holes in the story. For example, why would the mob risk having a Looper kill his future self? Why not send him to another Looper and eliminate any chance of them having second thoughts? Well, the answer is because you wouldn’t have a story. That’s why. We are also told that Sara has some familiarity with the Loopers, but we’re never explicitly told how. We have to assume that she ran across them in her sordid past much like with Suzie’s character. Maybe that’s covered in a deleted scene. There are other things about the story that seem like plot holes, but they’re honestly forgivable. “Looper” makes you think about the story long after the credits role, and that’s a rare thing at the movies.
The Bottom Line:
If you’re a fan of sci-fi movies, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, or Bruce Willis, then “Looper” is going to be a movie you’re definitely going to want to see in theaters. It also appears to be a breakout film for writer and director Rian Johnson, so you’ll want to see what the fuss is about.
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