The movie is written and directed by Rian Johnson, the filmmaker who brought us the indie film filled with potential Brick, as well as the moderately entertaining comedy The Brothers Bloom. It didn’t take long for Looper to surpass both of his previous features. Looper is just so much different, really showing what a great indie filmmaker can do when he keeps his screenwriting roots while embellishing in a nice budget. While Johnson is certainly a director to watch, it is his screenplays that have marveled me. Brick is very rich and interesting. The Brothers Bloom has its moments of brilliance, even if it is inconsistent and a bit indulgent. Looper is a whole new animal, though. The story, characters, drama, and action are all blended into a fascinating motion picture.
The story of Looper is difficult to discuss without giving too much away. The thing that makes this different from so many other sci-fi or action flicks is that it does not rely on twists to leave its impact. There are surprises for sure, but they are all within the context of the story, not game-changing cliché twists that these types of movies frequent. The story is about Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an assassin in the present year of 2044. Time travel has not yet been invented, but it will be in 30 years. In 2074, criminal organizations are the only ones using the outlawed sci-fi vehicle. Because they cannot dispose of bodies in that year due to tracking mechanisms, they send the bodies with a sack over their heads back to 2044, where Joe and the other “loopers” shoot them immediately and get rid of the bodies. They are rewarded with blocks of silver strapped to the back of each “loop”. When it is decided that their contract will be terminated, their future self is sent to be terminated with gold in place of the silver, a sort of “enjoy the last 30 years of your life” type of parting gift.
When Joe makes the mistake of helping a friend (Paul Dano) who failed to kill his future self, he is forced to either give up his friend or his future. Eventually he is face-to-face with his own future self (Bruce Willis), who has his own motives that young Joe cannot understand yet. Joe must catch up to and kill Old Joe before the mob catches up to him. Should Old Joe accomplish his goals, the ramifications would be catastrophic. If he kills Old Joe, he will be back on track with his gold bars to live the next 30 years of his life with no light at the end of the tunnel, which is really all he wants, not even comprehending how he could eventually turn into the cold-blooded older version of himself that he is trying to outsmart and outmaneuver.
What makes the screenplay so interesting is how Johnson creates his own rules for time travel movies. He does not resort to any sort of standard, which ultimately makes his movie feel more realistic. He opens the movie with a monologue explaining the setting, and despite instances where you will need to take a few moments to put the pieces together or figure out the ramifications of the paradoxes the screenplay creates, everything makes sense. If the audience is familiar with the time travel elements and time continuum vortex, then this will not overly-confuse. Every bit of detail or plot-hole that you feel like you find will come up at some point. Johnson fully immerses the audience in his world, and we come to accept the supernatural elements of the story. There is so much more going on in this film than simply a cat-and-mouse game and time travel gimmicks, though. There is romance, a bit of hard-hitting drama, a few very compelling moral questions, and Emily Blunt hacking repeatedly at a block of wood with an ax. Every bit of the story works, and its flaws are few and far between.
The cast is excellent. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific in his leading role. With all that makeup he does look eerily like a young Bruce Willis. He even gets his mannerisms and voice inflections down. Bruce Willis is awesome. He kicks some serious ass in this movie, but he also is playing the older version of a somewhat emotional character. He wears the scars well while maintaining his brute exterior. Emily Blunt does the best work in the movie, even though it might be her third-best performance this year. Jeff Daniels is great as the mob boss sent back to 2044 to control the loopers. Paul Dano does his thing with limited screentime. Piper Perabo is good as the stripper who interacts with both versions of Joe at certain points. Usually in movies such as these, the cast could phone it in because of the other-worldly nature of the film. These actors truly believe the story they are telling, though. The world Johnson created is not too different from our reality, and because he pays so much attention to the detail of the characters and the rules that he creates and follows, the actors are able to really breathe into their characters, and we actually care about them.
As far as movies that play around with the time travel and paradoxes go, this might be the most intelligent. Even though I may prefer Terminator 2: Judgment Day, this movie is more directly reliant on the time travel elements for the narrative to work. This film is better than Minority Report, Back to the Future, even Twelve Monkeys. Those were always my gold-standard when it came to time travel, but Looper is just that good, that compelling, and that engrossing. I was hooked from the opening frame until the credits began to roll, credits that were met by applause during a weekday matinee. This movie, coming out in a month that is usually more reserved for the beginning crop of awards-aspiring films, completely stole the show. It is the best movie I have seen this year, and with another viewing, it could easily make a case for being a 4-star film and a year-end top 5-10 film. Yes, it is that good.
Rating: 3.5 stars