Every once in a while a genre movie sneaks up on you and completely alters your universe and “fries your brain like an egg” – a description one of the characters in this film uses to describe time-travel. Looper is one of those movies and joins the ranks of films like The Matrix, Alien, Blade Runner and The Terminator, as a film that not only breaks new ground as a story, it creates an entirely new vision of the future that is both captivating and believable.
The year is 2044 and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the Looper in the movie title, a hit-man hired by an organized crime mob from 30 more years into the future, where time-travel has been invented, but is outlawed. The mob has problems with killing and disposing of bodies in the future because of high-tech tracking methods that have been developed, so they send the people that need to be snuffed-out back in time 30 years, where Joe and his fellow loopers take care of all the dirty work.
The catch is, in order to prevent the killers from causing problems for the mob in the future, they are eventually sent back to be killed – by their younger self – thus closing the loop. Once this deed is accomplished, the looper retires with a literal “golden parachute” where they get to kick back and enjoy life for the next 30 years; waiting until the day they are sent back in time to seal the deal with their own self-inflicted death. (Is your brain frying yet?)When old Joe (Bruce Willis) is sent back to young Joe to be rubbed out, he is conspicuously not wearing the requisite hood that covers the victim’s face and keeps him anonymous to the hit-man. This makes young Joe skip a beat and to say much more would be giving away too much of the fun. But there is so much more to this movie than just the killer-facing-himself time-travel gimmick.
Looper is an amazing mix of elements from movies as varied as 12 Monkeys (also with Willis), Firestarter, Twilight Zone, X-Men, Pulp Fiction, Terminator and even the 1985 Harrison Ford Amish thriller, Witness. But it miraculously combines this myriad of pop culture influences into something fresh, fun and thought-provoking.
The world of Looper is endlessly fascinating and very well thought out. For transportation, there are futuristic vehicles as well as cars & trucks from our era that have modified fuel systems and solar cells. The gap between the haves & have-nots has widened drastically and in an ugly manner where China has become the dominant world power and there are wars against vagrants. Details, like the loopers being paid in gold & silver by their future bosses (because how could they spend future currency), are all meticulously conceived.The film’s future world looks much like ours, with just some minor tweaks, but when you think about it, this is a much more logical approach than going crazy with the flying cars (although there is a pretty sweet hover-scooter.) The film’s make-up department has also done a remarkable job in making young & old Joe (Gordon-Levitt & Willis) look believable as the same person. Gordon-Levitt in particular looks very different than his normal appearance, which is somewhat disorientating if you are familiar with the actor’s face.
The performances in Looper are first-rate and the cast also includes Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks) as a neurotic looper, Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) as the mob boss who oversees the loopers, Emily Blunt as a farmer who lives near the looper killing field and the child actor Pierce Gagnon who steals the show as Cid.
Looper was written and directed by Rian Johnson, who worked with Gordon-Levitt previously on the movie Brick. This is his first genre film and he has knocked it out of the park. His sometimes complicated script could have easily come unraveled, but it is tight and holds together smartly, the dialogue is real and witty and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
This film is enormously entertaining and one of the best movies of the year. Without giving away spoilers it’s difficult to explain how smart this movie is or the spectacular scope of its story. It contains the humanity and intelligence required of any great science-fiction film and I have no doubt that genre fans will be dissecting and discussing this movie for generations to come. I can’t wait to see it again. Grade: 9/10