This was one of my most anticipated films of the year, and I’ll tell you why. Rian Johnson! His first 2 movies proved that a truly original, ambitious and entertaining artist has arrived on the film scene. Both BRICK and BROTHERS BLOOM, though very different in tone, show that Johnson has a distinct vision and enjoys introducing the audience to strange new worlds and characters. If you haven’t seen his first 2 films, get on that! Now he is back with his very first big budget studio film (and a sci-fi one at that) so I was really looking forward to seeing what Johnson would come up with.
LOOPER’s story combines elements from both hitman thrillers, time travel flicks, and maybe a tad from superhero movies. The concept is this: In the world of the criminal underbelly during the year 2044 (or something close to that), time travel is not invented yet, but in 30 years (which would be in the 2070’s) it will be. It’s nearly impossible to dispose of a body in the future, so bad guys knock people off by putting the person back in time and having a hitman known as a Looper wait at a specific destination for the target to suddenly appear from the future, and they execute them. Sound confusing? No, it’s really not. The movie does a much better job explaining it than I do. In fact, they do a really good job setting up the world before the story gets going. Now, being a Looper isn’t all gravy. When they start the job, they know that some day their future-self will be sent back for them to kill. That’s called closing the loop, which is pretty much just the bad guys covering their tracks. The Looper finds out that they have just killed themselves by finding gold in the victim’s coat. After that, they retire rich and spend the next 30 years living life to the fullest until they get sent back to the past to be killed. That’s the concept. Now, for the story.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a Looper who is quiet, reserved and pretty content with what he does. He shows no mercy and feels no remorse towards his targets. He just kills them (with a giant shotgun called a blunderbuss) and accepts that it’s just a part of his job. He spends his spare time studying French (he’s saving his earnings to move to Paris when he retires), visiting a prostitute (Piper Perabo), and hanging out with fellow Looper, Seth (Paul Dano). He’s also a junkie, addicted to a new drug that you drop in your eyeballs. He takes his orders from Abe (Jeff Daniels), a criminal sent from the future to run the Looper division. After killing several people, the time finally comes for Joe to close his loop, but something happens nobody counted on. Joe’s older self (Bruce Willis) isn’t restrained when he’s sent back. He immediately attacks younger Joe and escapes. Once Abe hears about this he sets out to capture both young Joe and older Joe.
And honestly, that’s kind of all you need to know. There is much, much more to the story, but that’s all I knew going into it, so I was thrilled just to discover how the rest of the story unfolded. I’ll say this: Emily Blunt plays a single mom living on an isolated farm that younger Joe seeks refuge at, and this is when the story really gets interesting. We also find out that older Joe is on a mission to find the man responsible for killing his true love in the future. Everything connects together pretty awesomely. Johnson has done it again! He takes a familiar concept and puts his own twist on it, making it unique.
The world is set up beautifully in the first 15 minutes as Joe (in voice over ) explains what a Looper is and what the world is like in 2044. It’s not a souped up version of the future like in Total Recall. It’s pretty realistic. The city it takes place in seems to be overrun with homeless people and criminals inhabiting decaying buildings. Think L.A. but 20 times worse. Okay, so there are some Hollywood-like futuristic flourishes like hovering motorcycles, but for the most part it’s pretty grounded for a Sci-Fi film. Johnson also does a nice job setting up the character of Joe, especially in an early key scene in which he must decide if he should help his friend Seth, who let his future-self escape. It’s reveals a lot about the Joe. And once Bruce Willis comes into the movie, it really gets moving, which sets in motion a series of chases. But we also get to know Joe’s older self by seeing (in a series of flash forwards) what Joe has been doing for 30 years. That was a clever move. So when the chase starts and younger Joe is chasing after older Joe, we actually care about BOTH of them.
But then, halfway through, the movie takes a different path as younger Joe stays at Sara’s (Blunt) farm and gets to know her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon). This is where the heart of the story lies, for me at least. Joe and Sara’s relationship really got to me, as did the bond between Joe and Cid. This changes the way Joe thinks and the eventual outcome of what was supposed to happen. And then there’s the stuff with older Joe tracking down this criminal called The Rainmaker, which is also very emotional. I don’t want to say too much more, but you’ll thank me for it. There is a great movie moment about 2/3 thirds into the movie that is sure to be one of the great “movie reveals” of the year. It gave me goosebumps. I can’t wait to talk about this scene with friends. Sometimes in time travel movies, the climax is disappointing, but not this time. The movie ends about as perfectly as it could have. Couldn’t think of a better ending.
This is the third time Johnson has worked with Gordon-Levitt (he had a wordless cameo in BROTHERS BLOOM), and of course he does a great job. He’s doing his stoic thing, but also gives Joe some heart. He wears makeup to make himself look a little more like Bruce Willis, and also uses some of the famous actor’s vocal patterns and mannerisms, which I noticed this during the first meeting between Joe and Abe. Bruce Willis is doing his Bruce Willis thing per usual, but he’s not sleepwalking here (like in RED and COP OUT). He seems to actually care about the story. I’m also glad that he didn’t shave his head entirely for the part (like in the last 12 movies he’s been in, besides MOONRISE KINGDOM, I guess). Instead, he’s got the clown fringe thing going on, which adds a bit of humility to the character I think. Jeff Daniels is effective in a small role as Abe, definitely making an impression. Paul Dano plays an annoying whiner and pulls that off effortlessly. Some people will be irritated by him, but I just thought that’s how his character was supposed to be like: A weasel. Noah Segan (also in Johnson’s first 2 movies) seems to be having fun hamming it up as Abe’s henchman who just can’t seem do anything right. Piper Perabo does some nice work with the limited screen time she has (and even gets naked for us!). But the real winner of this movie is Emily Blunt as Sara. It helps that her character is very strong. She is devoted to her son and will do anything to protect him. But she also displays some vulnerability too. She has a couple of great acting moments where she really has to get emotional. I was impressed and would love to see her nominated for supporting actress (though it’s unlikely to happen, and that’s too bad). It’s also worth mentioning Pierce Gagnon as Cid. Even though they say he’s 10 in the movie, he looked a lot younger. Like 6 or 7. But his acting ability is very mature and often intense.
I thought the script was quite clever. Like any time travel movie, there’s bound to be plot holes if you look close enough. But you know what? I didn’t even want to find any. I thought the movie was so neat, that I just wanted to enjoy the ride. And I think that’s how most movies from this genre should be viewed. Just have fun! I did like some of the nice touches, like how Bruce Willis remembers everything new that Gordon-Levitt does. That was nifty. Even though it’s not an action packed movie, there were a couple of set pieces that were pretty awesome. There’s a great Bruce Willis movie moment that has the action star single-handedly blowing away a bunch of bad guys in close quarters. Anytime I get to see Willis do shit like that it makes me grin from ear to ear. There’s some good chase scenes too (though occasionally I thought some of the hover bike stuff looked too fakey, but that’s minor since it was just a couple of shots). Now, when I watched the trailers, I thought for sure this was going to be rated PG-13. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that this movie isn’t watered down. When someone gets shot, you see blood spurt. And it mostly looked like practical effects too (like squibs), which is nice cause I’m getting tired of all this CG blood in movies today. The score by Johnson’s cousin Nathan is great. Having scored all of his films, I can really see the growth from film to film. He Mixes disorienting electronics with an intense orchestral score.
I am so proud of Rian Johnson. He did it! He made the movie he wanted to make, seemingly with no studio interference. And that’s a major feat! It’s nearly perfect. I only had a problem with a couple of effects shots that were probably more ambitious than the budget would allow, but what really counts is the story. And the story delivers. It’s dark, gritty, but not without some (dark) humor. It even made me cry! This movie deserves to be a hit. I sure hope people see this, cause this is one of those rare genre movies (like the original TERMINATOR) that reminds us that Sci-Fi can be smart. It’s much more than just a bunch of special effects and explosions. It’s what all movies should aspire to be. ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality, nudity and drug content.
– Running Time: 1hr 58min.