“Time travel has not been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been.”
What I like most about writer and director Rian Johnson is his ability to tackle a genre that has been recycled and done to death and deliver a film that is fresh and unique. His first film Brick reimagined film noir and his second feature outing The Brothers Bloom gave us a heist film that was smart, sweet and classy. In his third feature outing he is setting out to deliver his most ambitious film but also his most accessible film. What makes Looper unique is that it’s not just a film about time travel and hit men, but the question about the value of one’s life against the lives of many others.
It’s 2042 when we first meet Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) he’s standing alone in a field checking his watch, patiently waiting with a blunderbuss (the weapon of choice for loopers in the future) in hand. Suddenly materializing out of nowhere, a man appears with his arms tied and a hood over his head. With no hesitation Joe dispatches this man from 30 years in the future. It’s this disconnect the loopers have against the men they kill that made an impression on me. And for being a cold-blooded killer, Joe is rewarded nicely in silver and is able to live a more than comfortable life in a world that has fallen destitute.
Also in the not-too-distant future a mutation occurs in the population, allowing many to develop the ability of telekinesis. In a strange way this was the most sci-fi element of the film. They never really get into how time travel works, and it was smart to leave it to the viewers to just accept it. Even characters throughout the film repeatedly say, don’t think about time travel. But it’s the mutation of telekinesis that you eventually discover is of real importance, though I’ll stop myself there.
Heading the loopers is Abe (Jeff Daniels), a member of the mob from the future that was sent back to make sure operations run smoothly. We don’t see Abe too often in the film, but when we do Daniels simply delivers, being this nice mentor for the guys to look up to but in a breath later can be terrifying with a hammer. But where Daniels is most effective is when he simply talks to Joe when trying to discover the whereabouts of a looper that let his loop free (term coined to describe when a looper has to kill their future self, the mob’s way of removing ties from the future). The way they go about finding the future version of the loop is so cool I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s better just to sit back and view for yourself.
It’s not much longer till Joe finds himself back in the field with his blunderbuss in hand when the man that appears is Older Joe (Bruce Willis). But Joe hesitates, the man isn’t hooded nor is he tied up and in this moment of hesitation Older Joe springs into action and makes a run for it.
After seeing what happened to the previous looper who let his loop escape, Young Joe is willing to do whatever it takes to eliminate his loop and make things right. But that’s not enough, and now the mob is out to find Young Joe as well.
Things take a slight turn as we see how Older Joe came to be over the years. This little montage reveals how dangerous Joe will grow to become up until the moment he spots a woman who changes everything for him, a woman who Older Joe believes has saved his life. Up until this woman enters his life Joe has led a life of crime, hookers, and being strung out. Even though little to no dialog is spoken, we see this transformation in the man Joe eventually becomes.
When we finally get to see Willis and Levitt together and talking, something happens that I haven’t seen in a while. We’re seeing Willis actually deliver a hell of a performance. The subtleties of his actions as the two Joes size up one another are just fun to watch. As the conversation unfolds between the two, the tension slowly builds. It’s at this point we discover the true intent Older Joe has; he understands he can’t live forever but he wants to do what he can to save the life of his wife by killing who he holds responsible for her death, a person he knows only as The Rainmaker. It’s also in this scene we can really appreciate the effort taken to have Levitt more closely resemble Willis. There are points throughout even when Levitt is in close-up he’s almost unrecognizable.
After a shootout at the diner the Joes are forced to go their separate ways, each on the run from the mob. Older Joe sets off to uncover the mystery of who The Rainmaker is, and young Joe finds himself at a farmhouse where he is going through withdraw. It’s at the farmhouse Joe is taken in by Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), and this boy manages to steal every scene he’s in. The pace of the film slows quite a bit here, and there are plenty of scenes that follow with nothing but the characters just talking.
It’s everything from this point on I want to leave up to you all to view and decide how you feel, because to go any further would get into heavy spoiler territory. The film takes some dark turns as the identity of The Rainmaker becomes clear, and it’s in this portion of the movie it kind of fell apart for me on a critical level. Many are going to love this movie, and guess what, I’m one of those guys that loves this movie. When I walked out of this movie I had a nice geeky high going, and then BAM, I started realizing there were a few holes in the story. And the more I started thinking about the movie, I began to see more problems.
There is a lot to love about this film. This is one of the most realistic depictions of the future I’ve seen put to the screen. The script is one of the smartest ones conceived for the sci-fi genre in years even with the few plot holes it does have. It’s great to see Willis still has the acting chops in him and can do some bad-ass action sequences as well. As for Levitt, this should be the film that makes him a bankable star to carry a film.