Time travel is a tricky matter in fiction. How it is handled can range from simple and sublime to complex and convoluted. ‘Looper’, the third film from director Rian Johnson (‘Brick’, ‘The Brothers Bloom’), leans towards the former, presenting a futuristic tale about a mundane thug planning for a future that has other plans for his present.
Our titular criminal simply goes by Joe, played by a prosthetics-affected and semi-unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt (‘50/50’, ‘Premium Rush’). Joe is a looper, one of a group of guys who are cleaners for crime syndicates 30 years down the line from Joe’s current timeline. As noted in his voiceover early in the movie, time travel does not exist … yet. Once invented, it is locked down severely. Criminals are the ones who use and abuse it, taking advantage of it to dispose of unwanted bodies. This where we find Joe at the outset of ‘Looper’, performing this fairly boring task. Between his work, and occasionally spending time at a gentlemen’s club, life in the despondent and depressing 2044 presented to the viewer is pretty straightforward for Joe. Once in a while, things get exciting, such as when one of the looper’s targets makes a run for it. When it happens to Joe’s best friend Seth (Paul Dano, ‘There Will Be Blood’), Joe is presented with a quandary about assisting his friend. The problem is that Seth was supposed to ‘close his loop’, and kill himself sent back from the future, leading to his retirement. Instead, he let him go.
The film’s pacing picks up when Joe is confronted with a similar issue, but old Joe (Bruce Willis, ‘Die Hard’, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’) fights back and escapes. The local crime lord, Abe (Jeff Daniels, ‘Dumb and Dumber’, ‘The Squid and the Whale’), does not take this news well, with a city-wide hunt ensuing for both men. While Joe wishes to retire gracefully, and get back into Abe’s good graces by capturing himself, old Joe has an ulterior motive for returning.
Rian Johnson’s first film, ‘Brick’, was a classic hard-boiled crime noir set in a modern high school. Johnson once again delivers a very noir-like movie, but sets it 30 years into the future. Comments are even made to jest about why people in the future still dress like 20th century folk, noting the anachronisms of a classic crime tale told out of time and place. Additionally, but setting it in the middle of Kansas, both the past, present and future are once again mingled and juxtaposed well with the time travel aspect of the film. Thankfully, the science and logic of time travel in ‘Looper’ is not heavily explained in exposition, which can lead to many plot holes and conundrums; one of the characters even laughs off trying to explain it, that it would take ’10 hours..’ to tell that tale. In most cases, less is more, and Johnson follows that tenet well.
Gordon-Levitt, as in most anything he acts in, shines again, doing his best Bruce Willis impressions while also donning makeup to help complete the persona. The rest of the cast is impressive, yet reserved, as well, from Willis as the older Joe, to Emily Blunt (‘The Adjustment Bureau’, ‘The Devil Wears Prada’), who plays a woman who reluctantly helps Joe against his older self.
Science fiction, especially hard (see: realistic) sci-fi, is a difficult trick to pull off. Few recent films, such as ‘Moon’ and ‘Children of Men’, have pulled it off. Most sci-fi movies decide to use too much CGI, as it is much cheaper to create in the modern era, and, therefore, can become a director’s crutch. Johnson decides to utilize CGI, but sparingly, and only when needed to remind us that this is not the world of 2012 in ‘Looper’. Instead, he delivers a smart, exciting story that uses a number of classic sci-fi tropes in a clever, imaginative manner.
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