Saying that Rian Johnson‘s Looper delivers is a massive understatement. The film is a colossal achievement for the science fiction genre and films as a whole. It’s highly original and never afraid to up the ante when it comes to delivering a hardcore sci-fi story set in the very near future. Johnson might have cracked the code to making the perfect film, with a balance of futuristic elements that feel like real possibilities and highly polished action that flows smoothly and graphically, with more than one scene featuring some violent gun-play that never feels too excessive.
Sometime in the near future time travel is invented and immediately outlawed. Big corporations use this to their advantage and form a secret organization that involves sending their enemies back into the past only to get slaughtered and disposed of at point-blank range by hired hitmen called Loopers. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper and a smart one at that. He’s been saving most of his money earned from killing faceless future thugs for a rainy day and an eventual extended vacation in a country abroad.
He’s got his demons though, like an addictive eye-drop drug that helps make life a little easier. Joe’s job is simple and routine, but one that comes with depression and regrets. He kills on a daily schedule and receives silver bars as payment. He must continuing doing this until he eventually kills a future version of himself, with gold bars attached to the body. This means that the loop has been closed and Joe can live the rest of his life with a nice chunk of change in his pocket and no more worrying about killing.
Joe’s situation gets a little twisted when a cascade of bad luck rains down on him. First, his good friend Seth (Paul Dano) makes a grave mistake that puts himself and Joe on the bad end of their boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) and then Joe ends up meeting his future self (Bruce Willis) during a daily assassination.
Old Joe escapes, causing many problems for Young Joe as Abe and his hired men track the both of them down. Now, Young Joe must try and track down Old Joe while also learning the importance of the loop and why it’s happening. This hunt brings him closer to his inevitable future, while connecting him with his past. Rian Johnson‘s Looper unfolds like a nicely layered book, with level upon level of intricate details and plot reveals that heighten the story and drive your brain to piece everything together as the film is playing in front of your eyes.
The most important note that separates Looper from all of the other mainstream sci-fi films out there is its fearlessness. It’s not afraid to throw wild concepts at you left and right. Johnson’s film is one that deals with telekinesis and time travel as if they were everyday events. In Johnson’s future they are and they’re not that groundbreaking as some would think. Loopers cruise around on hover-bikes, while the rest of the world drives solar hybrid cars that look a lot like our modern vehicles, but with homemade bells and whistles attached to them.
Looper doesn’t spoon-feed the time travel laws or thoroughly discuss how certain things are possible. It expects the audience to trust Johnson and his cast of more-than-capable performers to explain the film when it needs explaining, but otherwise leave some things up to the imagination and that is what I absolutely love about the film.
It’s not afraid to jump over long distances of time and throw several stories at you at once. It’s not afraid to revisit scenes with a different perspective and it’s certainly not afraid to entrust in a child to show some of the film’s most important moments.
Let’s start with the obvious praise first. Joseph Gordon-Levitt completely embodies Bruce Willis from head-to-toe. His face, voice and general mannerisms are carbon copies of Bruce Willis and it does get sort of freaky watching the two look at each other on-screen. JGL understands how much of the film rides on the character of Joe (both young and old) and he bridges the age gap with a combination of fine acting and practical enhancements. The effectiveness of the role is similar to Andy Serkis‘ digital transformation in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This isn’t simply an actor dressing up as another actor; this is an artist displaying his craft by becoming an entirely different person while maintaining that same charisma and quality that we’ve come to expect.
Bruce Willis‘ performance might not seem as adequate as JGL‘s, but that’s only because Willis has done this character before with ease. Old Joe is as alive and kicking as Young Joe, if anything he’s more emotionally invested with the world than Young Joe could ever be. Willis is seasoned and wise, but still an ass-kicker with a purpose. His reasons are more personal and harder to explain due to the time difference, but Willis finds a way to become a time-traveling bad-ass that you want to root for, while also being slightly unaware of the bad that he’s causing.
Johnson balances that love-hate feeling that Old Joe gives off with an understanding of how far to go without betraying the character. Willis’ Joe does some things that you might not approve of or agree with, but he does it for the right reasons and Johnson shoots it with a non-judgmental eye.
Looper is also a first-rate action film that flows smoothly between one of the many staggering shootouts or chase sequences. Johnson keeps the camera stabilized and distant, providing long shots and fluid movement. Looper happens to be an R-rated film, which means chest-bursting montages with lots of blood and various body parts getting splattered across the screen and comedic relief that’s well-timed and actually amusing, especially whenever the effectively used Jeff Daniels has a bit of back-and-forth with JGL.
Some of the best stuff Looper has to offer can’t be fully discussed without ruining the film. Simply put, the film handles time travel in a way that feels fresh, relevant and genre-pushing. It’s all in the details and director Rian Johnson covers every single square inch of the film with tiny, yet important details that will eventually come into play sometime during the film. The cities, cars, buildings, weapons and people are all very important to the film and Johnson never takes a shortcut when explaining something, even if it’s as little as where Joe eats breakfast every morning.
Johnson’s attention to detail helps make Looper one of the most original science fiction films since The Terminator graced screens back in 1984. I can see Looper having a heavy influence on the genre for years to come, much like what Inception did for the genre back in 2010. People will be talking about and dissecting each and every scene, finding double-meanings and little hints that they might not have seen before.
I’m still ringing from Looper and by just how much it knocked me back, even with my high expectations. Thinking critical does bring up some minor gripes with the film, like Emily Blunt‘s spotty accent and her character’s lack of chemistry with Young Joe, but JGL and Bruce Willis help lessen the blow with their father/son-like bond that fuses the two men into one character. Rian Johnson‘s creativity both as a writer and a director is unquestionably the biggest reason why Looper connects as well as it does and makes my inner-geek excited for Johnson’s future projects.
Looper is an instant-classic that explores the future and connects it with the past, while actively being set in the present. Johnson’s script is innovative and original and his direction is clean and sturdy. Repeat viewings are a must, not because of the story’s complexity (well, maybe for some), but because of the lasting impact the film leaves and because of how timeless it really is. Films like Looper are hard to come by, so go and support it and help spread the good word.
Looper – 9.5/10