is the best sci/fi film I’ve seen in a very long time.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the film allows lead actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis to do what they do best -- chew scenery! All kidding aside, the film works so well because of its strong cast. A film about time travel can go south very quickly if the actors can’t make the audience believe the impossible. Another strength of the script, perhaps, is that time travel isn’t some glamorous thing taking folks back to an enchanting past or forward to some ideal future. In Looper, it’s a gritty, decidedly un-glamorous thing used by mob bosses for assassinations. Of course, inherent in any film about time travel is the implied warning: Don’t mess around with time!
In 2044, the future is a bleak place with most people living hand-to-mouth in decaying cities. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but 30 years into the future, it has been and is controlled by crime lords. One man sent back from the future, Abe (Jeff Daniels), is in charge of the crime bosses’ efficient method of eliminating future problems by sending them back to 2044 to be assassinated. The men who do the killings are called “loopers,” but they’re really just hired thugs who wait at a designated place where the unfortunate, about-to-be-killed men drop out of nowhere, hands bound and faces hooded. The loopers then eliminate them with huge guns. They’re well-paid in silver bars, except when they kill their own future selves. Then they receive gold bars and retire from the profession to enjoy their remaining 30 years. Since all their victims’ faces are covered, they really don’t know whom they’re killing until they see the silver or gold bars.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) , as a looper named Joe, lives better than most materially, doesn’t really think much about the men he’s killing, and numbs himself even further with drugs taken by eye-dropper and the brief companionship of hookers. He’s truly a lost soul. His only friend is another looper named Seth (Paul Dano) who accidentally discovers that one of his targets is his future self and lets him go. Of course, there are dire consequences. Joe begins to wonder what he’d do in that circumstance and becomes alarmed when a dream or vision (it’s not clear which) shows him himself in 30 years arriving to be killed -- by himself. Confusing? A little bit, but when the dream/vision becomes a reality with Bruce Willis as the older version of Joe, it all seems perfectly plausible. Never mind that it’s a little bit weird for Joe and Old Joe to be in the same place, at the same time, talking to one another. Hey, that’s the sci/fi part, so don’t get too logical!
These two Joes have very different agendas. Rather than being let go by Joe, Old Joe escapes using the very skills that made him such a good looper. Now, Joe realizes that he must track down and kill his older self, or Abe and his enforcers (called gat men) will track Joe down and kill him. Old Joe wants to find a child who will become the evil ruler of the future world and kill him so that his wife won’t be killed thirty years hence. Old Joe’s is the life Joe would have had if he’d gone on and killed “himself” when he was supposed to. He would have retired, lived for many years as a demoralized junkie in Shanghai, spending all of his gold bars until he is saved by true love. He enjoys a short, happy time with his wife, played by Qing Xu, before the enforcers come for him and kill her.
At this point, the film becomes more of a traditional chase-and-evade story line. Joe is tracking Old Joe while both “Joes” are being hunted by Abe’s henchmen. Young Joe’s flight leads him to a remote farm owned by Sara (Emily Blunt) who lives there with her young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon). Sara, hardened by the difficulty of living in harsh times and struggling to keep her farm going, protects what is hers by force if necessary. However, she develops tender feelings for Joe, especially when she sees that he’s demonstrating some tenderness of his own toward her son. It’s probably the first time in Joe’s life that he’s felt anything remotely like tenderness. When all the chasers and chased ones arrive in the same place at the same time, you know something cataclysmic will take place. It’s well worth the price of the ticket to find out what happens.
Emily Blunt gives a spectacular performance as the emotionally-wounded but strong Sara. Her American accent is flawless, and her rapport with the child actor who plays Cid makes her willingness to do anything to protect him believable. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (his facial features modified slightly with make-up to more resemble Bruce Willis) gives a powerful and layered performance as the emotionally-dead Joe who discovers his feelings again by caring for someone. Of course, no one does the charging through the scene with machine guns blazing better than Bruce Willis, but he also gives a finely-layered portrayal as the redeemed killer desperate to protect his love. Jeff Daniels nicely underplays the world-weary, cynical crime boss Abe, and Noah Segan brings poignancy to his role as Kid Blue, a screw-up who only wants Abe’s approval. Paul Dano makes good use of his brief screen time as the doomed looper Seth. Piper Perabo also does well playing against type as hooker Suzie.
Looper contains violence (some quite gruesome), nudity, and profanity, so leave the little kids at home. But if you’re looking for an exciting film with adult appeal, Looper is just the ticket!