With critical darling writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) calling the shots, the flick was unsurprisingly delayed for film festival buzz and the prestige of an awards hungry fall release. Make no mistake though, this sucker is a wild blast of genre entertainment, filled with sequences of Bruce Willis shootin’ up bad guys like the old days. It’s also a brain tickling time travel sci-fi movie that isn’t afraid to let the audience play catch up. This is the type of sci-fi/action movie that many people (certainly including myself) complain never get made anymore. Well, good news folks. Someone made one and it’s a doozy.
This is the type of sci-fi/action movie that many people (certainly including myself) complain never get made anymore.Johnson sets his movie in one of those near future worlds that looks very much like our own, except for the hover-bikes and fancy weapons. Time travel also exists, but is illegal since as anyone who has seen a time travel movie can tell you, it’s far to easy to screw up timelines once you start dabbling. The mob does use the technology illegally though. They send any of the sadsacks who need murderin’ back thirty years where they can be killed, but no one can be convicted since they technically don’t exist. The men responsible for the killing are called Loopers. They wait in predetermined locations, kill masked men the second they appear in their timeline, and collect cash from the corpse. Eventually they’ll be forced into retirement by killing their future self to close off the loop. You get a healthy retirement package of cash out of the deal, but then have to live knowing that you’re number is up in thirty years. If your future self gets away, other Loopers will track you down and torture you, slowly destroying your future self in the process.
So yeah…it’s complicated, but Johnson gets all of that out exposition of the way in the first ten minutes or so before kicking off his own adventure. Joseph Gordon Levitt stars as a Looper who flinches when he finally is supposed to kill his future self (Bruce Willis) and has to go on the run. Willis came back with plans of destroying the Loopers and taking out a young child who will have a major impact on the future (the Terminator influences are obvious without ever dipping into plagiarism). A series of chase and action scenes follow as Johnson slowly teases out his master plan for the movie, which is quite reminiscent of an old Twilight Zone episode and features the always-welcome presence of Emily Blunt. The screenplay hits all the necessary action beats without sacrificing narrative or thematic complexity. Revealing too much would be unfair, but while it’s too flawed to be a masterpiece, this is one hell of a genre movie that should be played endlessly on cloudy dormroom TVs for years to come.
There isn’t a bad performance in the pack here, which is pretty important to creating credibility in a sci-fi adventure like this. Joseph Gordon Levitt was fitted with a fantastic forehead and nose prosthetic that really makes him look like Bruce Willis and the actor gets all of Willis’ trademark smirks and ticks just right. Thankfully, he’s not just doing a Willis impression though (Bruce took care of that himself in The Expendables 2), he’s created a believable character who could easily turn into the grizzled old Bruce of Looper and it’s one hell of a performance. Given one of his most morally ambiguous roles to date (with a few shocking scenes that never would have never made it through a Hollywood processing plant), Willis delivers some of his best work in years. He does what made him a star, while still portraying a damaged soul not too far removed from his work in 12 Monkeys. Jeff Daniels is hilariously passive-aggressive as the bearded mob boss, Blunt provides some previously untapped ass-kickery along with her usual British charm, Paul Dano has a nice manic cameo as a looper, and underrated genre character actors Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and Noah Segan (Deadgirl) deliver fantastic evil henchmen. There isn’t a bad performance in the pack here, which is pretty important to creating credibility in a sci-fi adventure like this. Much of that can be chalked up to the director.
Rian Johnson showed incredible promise in his high school noir debut Brick that he built up through The Brothers Bloom and some fantastic episodes of Breaking Bad. With Looper he establishes himself as a big player in the movie-making game. Johnson stages some awe-inspiring and pulse pounding set pieces, yet the best scenes are quiet moments between the characters like Levitt and Willis’ diner stand-off (in which Willis hilariously insists they not waste time discussing time travel logistics) or when Blunt reveals her third act secrets. The movie isn’t perfect of course, anything that tries to latch complicated ideas onto an action narrative will sputter. However, the fact that Johnson could even get something like this made on a large scale is an undeniably impressive achievement in itself. Hopefully audiences will turn up in the numbers the film deserves, not just so that Johnson can keep making movies like this, but so that any filmmaker can be confident to mix in some ideas into a blockbuster bang-bang.