Rian Johnson’s “Looper” is an ingenious movie which combines the genres of noir, science-fiction and western into a mind twister of a film that will have you enthralled throughout. It reminds you of all those time travels movies you grew up watching, and yet it feels very original when compared to them. It also proves that Johnson is a creative filmmaking force to reckon with, and it gives each cast member an opportunity to give their best performance in any film they made in 2012.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe Simmons, an assassin in the year 2044 who works for the mafia and kills agents sent from the year 2072. In this future time travel is possible and also illegal, and the mob takes advantage of it to get rid of their garbage. The movie’s title refers to the kind of assassin Joe is, a foot soldier who is paid on the condition that their targets never escape. They end up getting a shotgun called a Blunderbuss which doesn’t have much of a range but is powerful enough to kill a person up close. When “Looper” starts, Joe looks to have been doing this for a while and has been living the good life as a result.
Things change drastically though when the mob decides to “close the loop” by sending back the Loopers’ future versions of themselves to eliminate. Joe ends up seeing an older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis) appear before him, and he ends up getting away. From there the young Joe is on the run as he has searches for the old Joe in order to get the mob off his back and live to see another day (so to speak).
To say more will give away some of “Looper’s” most inventive moments as it is full of surprises you don’t see coming. The story looks to have been very well thought out, and its focus is more on the characters than anything else. And like the more recent sci-fi movies such as “Children of Men,” it creates a future that looks futuristic but at the same time is not far removed from our own. Some movies can alienate you with their overreliance on special effects like the needless remake of “Total Recall,” but “Looper” isn’t out to blow you away visually. Instead, it finds its most potent moments involving the insane situations Levitt and Willis among others find themselves in.
“Looper” isn’t the first movie where two actors play different versions of the same character, but I have a hard time remembering the last one which had that happen (maybe it was one of the “Austin Powers” sequels). Seeing Levitt and Willis face off in a diner gives us one of the most riveting scenes in any movie you will see in any movie this year. Considering how brutal they are to each other throughout the movie, I couldn’t help but think: “talk about being hard on yourself!”
Time travel as a concept has been done to death in movies, and Johnson is fully aware of how familiar movie audiences are of the rules surrounding it. I loved how he used that to his advantage here as it makes “Looper” easier to follow than it might seem at first. Johnson also succeeds in juggling different storylines to great effect as it could have burned out creatively speaking before the end credits came up. You go into “Looper” thinking it’s about time travel, but then it becomes about something else entirely. Like “The Master” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” this is a film that demands to be seen multiple times to take in all its meanings.
Levitt has had a fantastic year so far in 2012 with terrific performances in “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Premium Rush” and, unless he does better in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming “Lincoln,” “Looper” is the icing on the cake for him. As the young Joe Simmons, he gets his meatiest role to date as an assassin who’s a drug addict (what’s in those eye drops anyway?) but also still has a bit of conscience left. While the prosthetics on his face, which were used to make him look more Willis, are a bit awkward to take in at first, Levitt gives the role his all and looks thrilled to able to transform himself into a character like this.
So much has been said over the years about Bruce Willis as his role as John McClane from the “Die Hard” movies will forever be burned into our consciousness, but seeing him as Old Joe in “Looper” reminds us of what a great actor he can be. His Joe is driven to correct the past so that he can save the future he built up for himself, but it also forces him to do things that leave him morally conflicted. Seeing the pain cross Willis’ face makes us still root for him somewhat in “Looper” even as his character goes seriously astray with his deadly actions.
Then there’s Emily Blunt who plays hard bitten single mom Sara, and she is incredibly powerful in “Looper” regardless of whether or not she is wielding a heavy duty shotgun. Blunt has been a continually wonderful presence in each movie she’s in, and here she gets to be both bad-ass and very vulnerable. Her scenes with Pierce Gagnon, the 5-year old actor who is amazing as her son Cid, are as emotionally powerful as they are deeply suspenseful.
There are also other terrific performances to be found in “Looper” from actors like Paul Dano who plays neurotic assassin Seth, and Noah Segan who channels Billy the Kid into his role of a six shooter carrying killer named Kid Blue. And there’s no forgetting the great Jeff Daniels who brings both danger and humor to his role of mob boss Abe. Some are surprised to see Daniels in this kind of role given that he is typically cast as nice guys in movies, but keep in mind this is the same guy who played the most embittered of writers in “The Squid and The Whale.”
It’s a treat for moviegoers that a film as endlessly inventive as “Looper” got produced in a time where creativity is at a cinematic low. Everyone involved in this picture clearly came to it with tremendous enthusiasm, and it shows every single second in unfolds before us. It is not only one of the best movies of 2012, but also one of the best time travel movies ever made.
* * * * out of * * * *