Think back if you will to the first time you saw a film like The Matrix or Blade Runner. What stayed with you? Sure, the visual style and effects, but more than anything, what stuck with you is that you were seeing the fully realized vision of a strong creative force. They were movies that never talked down to you. Movies that looked at a concept in a way you hadn’t yourself, and saw it all the way through. Movies that never made you feel stupid, and trusted in you to fill in the blanks and follow the film.
With a night’s rest behind me, and my brain still swirling from the story and imagery presented, I’m pleased to say that Looper is another one of these films, and truly cements filmmaker Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) as a true creative talent. If that wasn’t enough, it also sits as one of the most original and challenging films I’ve seen for all of 2012.
At its core, Looper is a story of time travel. Set in the year 2044, our lead is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). His job is that of a looper. Sometime in the decades after 2044, time travel is invented and immediately outlawed. However, the world of organized crime has no qualms with using it. When they need someone eliminated, they send that person back in time to 2044, where a looper (a special hit man) is waiting, killing the person immediately. Like so, they are removed from the timeline, and all is good.
Loopers tend to live a live fast die young life style. They’re young, they have lots of money (each kill gets you a few dozen bars of silver), and they’re self-destructive. Life as a looper is a mix of murder, drugs and women. It’s a prosperous, but empty existence.
Why is it so empty? One day you’ll have to “close your loop”. All loopers are set with a shortened life. You’ll find yourself with a kill in front of you, and instead of the normal payment of silver attached to their back, you’ll find yourself with a reward of gold – and that tells you that the person placed before you is…yourself. You effectively end your own life, and are given the next 30 years to enjoy it. For Joe, however, when his 2074 version of himself arrives (played by Bruce Willis), 2074 Joe isn’t ready to be killed – and he goes running, setting the movie on its course for time twisting and exciting action.
Why is 2074 Joe running from his 2044 killer? It’s about more than just a selfish want to keep living, it’s about something bigger than himself. And it’s this driving force which takes Looper from being a decent movie about time travel to being a truly great one. It turns what could be a simple mind-bending action film into one which brings up the big questions – questions about fate, life, family, love and destiny.
Set in a not too distant future, Looper could very easily be filmed in a modern-day world with no real changes, and we’d accept it as an audience. Instead, Rian Johnson envisions a world with a more violent and caustic middle class, a world where jet bikes are real (but could be better), cars have solar panels poorly slapped on them, and we’ve clearly been headed through a deeper depression from what we see today. Even the glimpses of the 2074 era are believable, with the rise of the Asian world, definitely feeling like Blade Runner having come to life. It certainly says something then that the end of the film takes place on a farm. Whether it’s an intentional stripping away of the future world to make the characters and the bold nature of their lives stand out or not, it’s a strong choice, albeit an unexpected one.
The acting is pretty great from top to bottom, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing his best Bruce Willis impression (aided by rather solid prosthetic work) and serving as the perfect cool, confident and cocky noir hero. Bruce Willis returns to form, mixing compassion, horror, and a drive I haven’t seen in him as an actor in years. Of course, he’s also given moments to shine as the action hero he made his millions as, including a brutal and jaw dropping fight in a nightclub. My favorite character of the film has to be Abe (Jeff Daniels), the leader of the loopers, a man sent back through time to make sure the 2044 era of organized crime remains up to par. He’s equal parts knowing hippie and frustrated father for the loopers, clearly sick of his job, and just wanting to maintain the status quo. The heart of the film is actually two characters who are barely addressed in the trailers – a mother, named Sara (Emily Blunt) and her child, Cid (Pierce Gagnon). To discuss them would be to get into some late in the film material, but Emily Blunt does a fantastic job in her role, and Pierce Gagnon might be one of the most effective child actors I’ve ever seen.
Just under two hours in length, Looper takes you on an unbelievable journey through time and emotion, and walking out of the theater, all I could think of was how badly I wanted to watch it again, and debate the film with friends. And I truly think that’s the best thing you can say about a film – not only was it good, but you want to rewatch, rediscover and ponder for years to come. I give it my highest possible recommendation, and highly advise you see it this weekend – the movie truly deserves the audience.