Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt
Reviewer: Todd McCarthy
Looper is a clever, entertaining science-fiction thriller that neatly blurs the line between suicide and murder.
An existential conundrum wrapped in a narrowly conceived yarn about victims sent back in time to be bumped off by assassins called loopers, Rian Johnson’s most ambitious feature keeps the action popping while sustaining interest in the long arc of a story about a man assigned to kill the 30-years-older version of himself.
Probably the shakiest aspect of Johnson’s original screenplay is what it asks the viewer to buy about the future: a mere 62 years from now, in 2074, time travel has become possible, but such a momentous breakthrough is limited to serving as a body-disposal system.
Under the prevailing authority, time-jumping is strictly outlawed because of its potential for messing with history. A criminal mob, run by The Rainmaker, defiantly uses it but only as a vehicle for assassination, with “loopers” – disreputable gunmen living in 2044 – lying in wait for people to execute so no bodies or other evidence can be found in the future.
But the premise is established in nifty fashion; the doomed, hooded with hands bound behind him, suddenly materialises in an empty field, and the looper immediately blows him away with his blunderbuss. One such executioner is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a retro-looking hipster who offends his crankily genial boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels).
Looper mostly is set in a seedy metropolis. Joe hangs out in clubs, sees a sexy woman (Piper Perabo) who works in one of them and tries to help a friend and fellow looper, Seth (Paul Dano), who’s imminently endangered by a new development that’s come down from on high: they’re “closing all the loops”, meaning they’re sending the “future selves” of all the loopers back to be killed.
Almost immediately, Joe is in the same jam. When, a half-hour into the film, he goes to the field to do his next job, the guy who pops up to be shot is not hooded. Joe’s hesitation allows the older man to escape, and it’s clear who he is: it’s Joe as his older self. And, for his failure to kill him, young Joe is in trouble with Abe and his “gats”, first-class hired guns.
When the two Joes finally meet, there’s no doubt they’re working at cross purposes: young Joe is determined to kill his older self, while old Joe is dead set on tracking down and taking out The Rainmaker, who would be a little kid in 2044, so his late wife won’t die at his hands after all.
The biggest problem facing the makers of Looper is how to make the audience believe the trim, long-faced Gordon-Levitt could somehow change so much in 30 years that he would look like the thicker-built and shorter-nosed Willis. The solution lay in altering the younger actor’s appearance, imperceptibly at first, but gradually to morph his dark eyes into Willis’s grey-green and to reshape his nose and eyebrows, either with make-up or digitally or perhaps both. The effect feels downright weird.
This is especially noticeable during the film’s second half, much of which takes place at young Joe’s place of refuge, the isolated home of feisty young farmer and single mom Sara (Emily Blunt). The eventual ending is great, the resolution to the tricky time manoeuvring impressively worked out. – Hollywood Reporter