Billed as a high-concept actioner, Looper is really more a high-concept drama. It works on both levels, but still runs into many of the same plot-hole traps that other time-traveling films encounter. At the same time, there’s something to be said for a pretty original story (remember those?) that poses enough moralistic questions for a trilogy. Despite a talky middle section that drags, it’s easy to get immersed in the film’s smooth storytelling and superior acting. It also begs for repeated viewings.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a “looper,” otherwise known as a hired assassin. The year is 2042 and time travel has been made possible, though highly illegal. It’s the kind of thing that only the mob has access to. When, in 2072, the mob has someone they want to off, they beam them back thirty years and Joe takes care of them with one shot to the chest. It’s highly lucrative work, but it comes with a price: when the mob wants to “close” your loop, they send your future self back for assassination. When old Joe (Willis) is sent back to 2042 and escapes young Joe’s attempt to kill him, it’s a race against time as the two Joes have different motives for protecting one another.
Mixing action, drama, and a good amount of black comedy, Looper has a lot of fun with its wild, time-traveling premise. The motives for both Joes keep the story compelling, even though it sometimes gets lost in the details of what’s possible for each Joe to know about their respective enemies. Writer/director Rian Johnson continues to mold his craft, no matter what the genre. Looper has a striking setting for the material (a mixture of rural and big-city Kansas) and Johnson never veers into taking it too seriously.
Now a full-fledged leading man, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, decked out in makeup to make him resemble Bruce Willis, is fantastic. Playing vulnerable and badass with ease, he keeps the dramatic elements of the story grounded. Willis is also superb as the older Joe, a man bent on killing someone who will greatly affect young Joe’s future. Hell, this movie even sold me Emily Blunt as a farmer who saves young Joe’s life. Her mysterious young son, Cid (Piere Gagnon, in one of the better child performances in years), may or may not be a key player in the future.
Engaging, exciting, and successfully cross-breeding elements of Terminator and even Pet Sematary, Looper is a solid work of palatable science-fiction. The near-future that it envisions is certainly within reason, and the moral dilemmas at its core are universal. Though sluggish for part of the second act, the film, while not as transcendent as, say, The Matrix, still merits consideration and respect for bringing a thought-provoking story to the screen in style.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 118 Minutes
Rating: R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.
Theatrical Release: September 28, 2012
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan