In 2074, time travel is possible but it’s outlawed. This however doesn’t stop the mob from sending their targets 30 years back into the past. This is where specialized assassins called loopers wait to kill and cleanly get rid of a body that technically doesn’t exist. One day Joe must “close the loop” and finish off his older counterpart, but when he comes face to face with the older version of himself, he hesitates and old Joe escapes. Now he must track down the escapee and eliminate this loose end or incur the wrath of his underworld boss.
Writer/director Rian Johnson has created a fascinating world in which a crime syndicate of loopers kill and eradicate with mechanized skill. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Bruce Willis’ Joe at a younger age. The story is propelled by young Joe’s drive to contain and dispose of his future self. This is Kansas and the blunderbuss is their weapon of choice, a firearm with a short, large caliber barrel that doesn’t require a lot of accuracy to use. Gat Men, the more elite of the mob’s henchmen, are the muscle that enforce the rules that loopers must live by. They journey on slat bikes, cycles that hover over the ground. Many humans have developed telekinesis as sort of a genetic mutation. It’s a heady mix, like The Matrix, The Shining and Donnie Darko had ménage à trois and Looper was the beautiful baby from that union.
Looper’s script is wisely aware of the complexities of time travel. Yet it stops short of fully delving into the cerebral intricacies of it. Astute viewers will notice certain inaccuracies emerge that aren‘t understood until the film develops. Early on JGL allows his future self to escape then promptly revisits the scene again where he immediately rights that wrong. It’s a perplexing sequence when initially viewed, but grows clearer as the film unfolds. There always will be inherent dilemmas in time travel movies that cannot be resolved. Think too hard and you’ll get a headache or simply accept the conceit and it’s wild roller coaster ride of a film. I’m still not convinced the multiple time lines make sense as they exist in never-ending loops of logic, but the narrative had me too hypnotized to care.
What’s separates Looper from your garden variety time travel hokum is its character based structure. There is a lull here and there, but for the most part the thriller is captivating. Willis even gets a chance to single handedly display the kind of badassery he’s known for when he starts blasting away with two guns at those nasty Gat Men. As good as Willis is, this is JGL’s movie. I was concerned upon seeing his unrecognizable face from the trailer that his makeup would be distracting. JGL’s face looks like a heavily botoxed rendering of himself. However, one should not underestimate his acting. Even though Willis and JGL look nothing alike, I would’ve preferred we take a leap of faith and accept the premise without makeup. With facial expressions, vocal inflections and gestures, JGL carefully conveys a younger version of Willis. He’s good enough that after awhile, the weird makeup becomes less of an issue and you’re focused on the scope of his predicament.
The hectic first half is an exciting actioner highlighted by the occasionally confusing time traveling motif. It’s consistently enjoyable. The plot then takes an unexpected turn halfway through. We are introduced to Sara, a single mom on the farm played by Emily Blunt and her mysterious son Cid, an impressive child performance by Pierce Gagnon. Here’s where an interesting sci-fi becomes a human drama. What this storyline lacks in action, it more than makes up for in heart. How mother and son are relevant to his mission is something I won’t reveal, but it gives an already entertaining fantasy, a thrilling development. Precocious little Cid is a boy that easily joins the ranks of creepiest kids ever.
Looper reunites JGL with Rian Johnson, the writer/director behind 2005’s indie high school mystery, Brick. That modern noir heralded a prodigious new talent. His follow-up The Brothers Bloom was a step back, but now with Looper he takes one giant leap forward. In the end, I won’t insist that all of the time traveling mumbo jumbo intellectually holds up, because I don’t think it does. Its brain twisting time zigzag jumps caused me to exclaim Huh?! on more than one occasion. Smart viewers will question script logic. Having a looper murder their own future self clearly causes more problems than a disinterested, neutral party would, for example. But the sincere connection we have to these characters compels us to watch. It’s a mesmerizing tale with a very satisfying conclusion. The second half in particular has a surprisingly amount of heart that even upholds the importance of good parenting. Wasn’t expecting that. Looper blends an engaging sci-fi time traveling fable with the tenderness of an emotional drama. I love when a story exceeds my expectations and Looper does just that. But one last question, Whatever happened to France?