Bottom Line: Looper is loopy, exhilarating fun.
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Frank Brennan, Jeff Daniels, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Noah Segan, Paul Dano, Pierce Gagnon, Piper Perabo, Summer Qing, Tracie Thoms
Looper is a science fiction beauty so bizarrely ingenious, I wouldn’t be surprised if H.G. Wells’s spirit let out a loud cheer to the afterlife after it caught a peek at the screenplay. The year is 2044, and the main issue is time travel. The phenomenon has not yet been invented, but come thirty years, it will have been. It will also, however, be instantaneously outlawed. Our story revolves around Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a fellow known as a “Looper”. He is one of a handful of men who are aware of the feat-to-come, and use it in secret to their advantage. On a daily basis, Joe sits down in a field and waits for a victim to be sent back from 2074; once this happens, he murders his victim and collects the money he or she has brought along. At one point during this activity, Joe recognizes one of the victims that have been sent. He realizes it is himself (Bruce Willis), only thirty years older. He discovers that his older self has come to the past on a fleeting mission to prevent a certain tragedy long before it occurs. And this is beneficial for the older Joe, but it could lead the younger Joe’s life in a much different direction.
Science fiction is wearing thin as quickly as someone on a binge diet. In every recent year, at least one film is released to prove the genre still has legs. 2009 – Avatar. 2010 – Inception. 2011 – Super 8. Early this summer, Prometheus was released, and it wasn’t terribly likely there would be any sci-fi to top its magnificence. Looper doesn’t reach peaks quite as insurmountably high, but it would be a sin to say it doesn’t come close. Think of what Inception would be if the central concept were time travel, with a lead that echoes to Harrison Ford’s in Blade Runner. Although the script does occasionally falter in trying to avoid inconsistencies***, it is crafted with the use of every last possible ounce of thought. Writer Rian Johnson, who also directed, goes against the grain as far as style. He is aware that most science fiction trash—ignoring B-movie garbage—comes from screenwriters trying to construct the future into the paragon. It’s great to finally see a film in which characters have the same sort of things in their way as we do today. Elevators run slowly, traffic takes hours to push through, etc. Best of all, this makes it easy to focus on the central premise.
In its technical realm, Looper is grand. The sound is mixed and edited to perfection, often muting out conversations or dubbing them over with the sound of a ticking clock; hopeful up-and-comer Nathan Johnson, whose cousin is the director himself, provides a musical score that works just as well. The cinematography is especially great, employing steady yet somewhat fast-paced shots during action sequences, and more contained angles otherwise. These achievements are the crux of what keeps our interest during the perplexing setup, and only allow it to excel from then on. When the technical grandeur works in conjunction with successful delivery from both Gordon-Levitt and Willis, and a suddenly arbitrary route taken in the screenplay’s mentality, the result is one of the most unpredictable, shocking endings in at least twenty years. These words coming from the critic who found the “twist ending” in The Sixth Sense all too obvious.
***Early on, Joseph Gordon-Levitt spent an entire scene making it known that he was “going to France”. After that, however, any desire to visit France lacks a single mention, and we instead find Joe moving to Shanghai.