Writer/director Rian Johnson is one of the most creative and talented filmmakers working today. He changed the way film noirs were looked at with 2005’s Brick and in 2008, he made the wonderful and underrated The Brothers Bloom. His latest, Looper, reunites him with his Brick star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the results are astounding. It’s the biggest mind-trip to hit movie theaters since 2010’s Inception, but whereas that film nailed its own internal logic, but failed emotionally, Looper nails both. It’s never confusing, it never seems to contradict itself (though, admittedly, repeat viewings may lead to plot holes) and it toys with your emotions, culminating in a satisfying ending that will send chills down your spine.
The year is 2044 and time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be in 30 years. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper. His job is to kill people sent back in time, people that his mysterious employers don’t want around anymore. It’s a cushy job that pays well, but it has one huge drawback. Because time travel is illegal in the future, his employers want to leave no trace of their Loopers, so when they decide a Looper’s contract is up, they send their future self back in time to be disposed of. After the younger Looper kills his older self, his contract is over and he has 30 years to live before his time comes. This is called “closing the loop.” However, if you fail to kill your future self, the powers that be, led by Abe (Jeff Daniels), a future man sent back in time to run things, come after you. Joe makes that unfortunate failure and now, along with his future self (Bruce Willis), he is on the run and trying to survive.
Looper is as uncommon as movies come. Sure, it borrows some things from other movies and occasionally relies on screenwriting coincidences (as all movies do), but it does something so special with them that it feels completely different. Despite all the action, gunfire and explosions, Looper gives off a unique feeling, an extremely rare one makes you feel both compassion and resentment simultaneously, causing your inner emotions to tug back and forth between what you deem right and wrong. Through a brilliant turn of events (that I’ve deliberately avoided describing), the film sets up Joe to be both the good and the bad guy, though, at certain times, it’s hard to tell which version is which. Both have their reasons to do what they do and even though we know them to be selfish or immoral, we understand. It’s a strange feeling to have, especially when those feelings are polar opposite of each other and, really, about the same man.
The only real downside to this otherwise captivating plot turn is that it spoils a portion of what is to come. Gordon-Levitt and Willis play the same character, the former from the present and the latter from the future. That means that if something happens to Gordon-Levitt, Willis disappears, but the nature of the story dictates that Willis must be around. If you take away future Joe, the story doesn’t happen. This leads to a few tensionless scenes where the young Joe is fighting, hiding or running for his life. Despite the danger around him, it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll escape unscathed. Any type of suspense that could have been around otherwise vanishes.
But that’s the only big complaint in an otherwise incredibly exciting futuristic film noir. Looper redefines the way we think of science fiction, fantasy, action, screenwriting and even make-up, thanks to the flawless prosthetics placed on Gordon-Levitt’s face during shooting to ensure he resembled his older counterpart. It keeps you on your toes and once it introduces telekinesis to the equation, all bets are off. Paradoxical implications aside, Looper is flat out terrific. If Rian Johnson continues on this path of well above average filmmaking, he could turn out to be one of the best to ever do it.
Looper receives 4.5/5