It understands the importance of character development and that explosions do not need to occur every five minutes in order to be entertaining.
I am always skeptic when it comes to most sci-fi action films but Looper is the rare exception that proves from time to time excellent ones are made. Rian Johnson’s Looper is a smart and unique science fiction film set in the future about time travel that is controlled by mobsters. Looper is not your average science fiction film; it understands the importance of character development and that explosions do not need to occur every five minutes in order to be entertaining.
The film is set in Kansas in the year 2044. Time travel is not possible yet but it is invented a few decades from then. Even though time travel is possible it is illegal to do. However, large crime organizations use it to get rid of people. See, if they send someone back in time and they are killed, that person vanishes from existence in both present and future.
This is where Loopers come in. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is informed when a person will appear from the future and it is his job as a Looper to be there to shoot that person immediately. Loopers blast their hooded targets with a powerful shotgun called a blunderbust from point-blank range. The range of the gun makes it impossible to hit anything beyond 15 feet but conversely impossible to miss anything closer than 15 feet, an important note that comes into play later in the film.
Eventually, when a Looper grows old enough, they will be sent back in time to be killed by his own younger self, which is called “closing the loop.” It is a clean process that only goes weary when the Looper fails to complete the loop. Letting your loop run when the person you are supposed to kill escapes is highly dangerous. Things start to go haywire when another fellow Looper named Seth (Paul Dano) sees himself as part of a closing loop and wisely decides not to shoot. Seth just so happen to recognize the song his future self was singing. By not closing his own loop, his future self was able to warn present Seth about what the future holds. Seth confronts Joe about this before their boss Abe has Seth killed for letting that happen.
Abe (Jeff Daniels) is from 2074 and is in charge of the Loopers for the crime syndicate. Abe criticizes Joe about his fashion style by preaching to be new and do something different. Which is precisely the advice that the film itself follows; to be something new and different. Joe has a plan to go to France after he is done as a Looper but Abe tells him, in a great scene, that he should go to China instead. Abe would know as he is from the future after all. Joe however is insistent about going to France and it starts to show just how ignorant his character is. He continues to study French between kills and saves up the silver bars he earns to travel there.
One day a man (Bruce Willis) appears late at the site without being tied up at all, two things that never happen. Joe freezes for a moment which gives this man enough time to escape. The man leaves a note for Joe that tells him he should leave town as soon as he can. After a short while you learn that the man who escaped is actually Joe from the future. Unlike all the others from the future, Joe willingly sends himself back in an attempt to save a loved one that wrongfully is murdered in the future. We are transported 30 years into the future to follow just how future Joe was able to show up not on time and not tied up.
Present Joe is very apprehensive about believing the man who claims to be him in the future. Or maybe it’s just his arrogance. We see a scar on future Joes arm of the waitress name that the present Joe often speaks to. Present Joe had just etched it into his arm, leaving a permanent scar that is seen on future Joe’s arm. This was likely done to try to prove that the older man is who he claims he is. Another detail that visually ties the two together is there is a bandage on present Joe’s ear and you can see that part of future Joe’s ear missing.
Jeff Daniels is only in a few scenes but he steals everyone one of them. The rest of the performances are not far behind with everyone pitching in making the film as a whole well performed. You could make a good argument that the young boy (Pierce Gagnon) is as equally superb and I probably would not argue. The filmmakers purposely made Joseph Gordon-Levitt to look physically different for his role to make him resemble Bruce Willis more closely. Which had me double-take a couple of times before I realized that it was actually Gordon-Levitt. The makeup team did an excellent job on altering his looks which apparently took 3 hours each day to do.
I kept seeing glimpses of Twelve Monkeys while watching this film. Bruce Willis being in both certainly had something to do with that but there are other reasons as well. Both are trippy sci-fi films that involve the main character coming from the future to warn people in the present about dangerous events soon to come. Both films do so by providing numbers or signs to watch out for.
Looper wisely tells the audience not to look too deeply behind the mechanics of the time travel because you are sure to find loop holes (pun intended). This high concept sci-fi keeps you guessing how it will end it until it does and suddenly it seems obvious. Backed with a unique premise, solid performances from the cast and a firm grasp on how to make a proper action film, Looper sets the bar on recent big-budget sci-fi action films.