Maybe this review is really just me gushing. I’m not sure. Rian Johnson wrote and directed my favorite film, The Brothers Bloom, as well as the noir drama Brick. He is one of the few directors whose work I follow, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of his third movie for what feels like ages.
Before I saw Looper — even after watching the trailer a few times — I had no idea what the movie was about, other than time travel. Now I see why the trailer didn’t give away more. This is a film that’s almost impossible to discuss without giving away spoilers, and that’s exactly why it’s so fun to watch. (So yes, minor spoilers to come, but I won’t give away the big twists or the ending!)
The film is set in 2044, when time travel hasn’t been invented… but by 2074, it will have been. Joe (Joseph-Gordon-Levitt) is a “looper,” a hitman who kills targets after they’ve been sent back in time. Apparently, 30 years in the future it’s difficult to dispose of bodies, so the mob hires these loopers from the past for clean kills. Eventually, loopers kill their future selves, closing the loop. They take their money and enjoy the remaining 30 years of their life — until it’s time for them to fall back 30 years and meet their ends. This is all part of the deal.
But when it’s time for young Joe to kill his future self (Bruce Willis), future Joe isn’t wearing the bag over his head that would have disguised his identity until after the hit. In the moment it takes for young Joe to assess the situation — why his future self is a little bit late to the meeting, why he’s not wearing a mask — future Joe makes his escape. And from there, plot twists start flowing.
It’s an intriguing premise. Frankly, time travel movies are getting a little rusty, but this film oozes originality. Like Johnson’s other films, it’s big on ideas. It’s stylish. It’s fast-paced, and when the ending hits, it really ends — there’s no drawn-out conclusion that makes you glance at your watch. Some might complain that it’s a little too clever, but that’s what I love about Johnson’s movies. His films tend to have playful ideas that get people thinking, yet they’re too fast-paced for deep digging until after they’re over. Looper is like this.
Gordon-Levitt and Willis may not look much alike, but they do a great job of matching up their expressions and mannerisms to seem like the same person. (Gordon-Levitt’s makeup obviously helps, too.) Emily Blunt also turns in a stellar performance as a young mother raising a son (Pierce Gagnon) with a very powerful gift — or possibly a curse. Jeff Daniels plays a realistic crime boss, who is straightforward and laid back but no doubt in charge. And Noah Segan got a number of laughs for his fantastic performance as the whiny “gat man” desperate to prove himself.
The whole premise prickles with originality, and the seedy city where Joe resides is exciting from the start. It’s a time travel tale, but it’s very focused on the characters and the story that emerge from the time travel premise. And like Johnson’s other films, Looper tells its story with efficiency. For instance, Joe’s friend has an experience that foreshadows Joe’s, and early remarks about the types of guns come into play in one of the final scenes. Everything is clean, including the ending.
In short, I love Rian Johnson’s films. I also love science fiction. So a Rian Johnson sci-fi film that brushes off the dusty old time travel premise and makes it refreshingly cool is definitely a favorite for me.