4.5 / 5 stars
There are usually two types of science fiction movie: There’s the shallow, generic thriller that merely uses a sci-fi backdrop to add character to an otherwise familiar set-up (this year’s Total Recall and Dredd). And then there’s the more thoughtful, original fare that strives to challenge audiences with unique twists on current affairs and intriguing ‘what if?’ scenarios. Looper is one of the latter. Rian Johnson’s time-travel hit-man thriller is a cool, noir-tinged, character-driven action-er with plenty of thrills and brain-bending intellect. (click on the movie poster for a closer look)
Reuniting with his Brick star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Johnson depicts a future where time travel is illegal but not impossible, with the mob using the technology to send ‘hits’ back in time to be killed by a ‘looper’, a hit-man waiting in the past. With no blood, body or weapon, it’s essentially a perfect crime with the future authorities having no evidence of a murder having taken place at all. Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a looper who must confront his loyalties when he is tasked with ‘closing his loop’ by assassinating his future self (Bruce Willis). However, when his target escapes in the present, intent on changing his fate, Joe finds himself on the run, a target of his former employers.
What follows is consistently entertaining and frequently original, a gripping thriller that references the inherent paradoxes of time-travel (“this time travel crap just fries your brain like an egg”) without getting too bogged down by plot contrivances. Looper merely uses time-travel as a device to set events in motion, rather than an integral part of the story, and it’s all the better for it. With a unique story, sharp dialogue, and Johnson’s slick visuals, Looper stands apart from this year’s misfiring sci-fi blockbusters as one of the genre’s strongest entries of the past decade. What impresses most though is the cast.
Gordon-Levitt, sporting some facial prosthetics and a brilliant mimicry of his older counterpart’s tics and tricks, provides a youthful, cool and iconic take on the character — showing the excesses his unique lifestyle permits. Willis turns in a subtly damaged and grizzled performance as the older Joe, hellbent on seeking revenge for his current plight. Each has his standout scenes, but the film really comes to life when their paths occasionally cross. Whether it’s their fraught first meeting, final confrontation or mid-point rendezvous in a rural cafe, the two performances complement each other perfectly, and crackle with a tense chemistry as each Joe tries to outwit the other.
Gordon-Levitt and Willis are in fine form, and Johnson solidifies the resemblance in a bravura montage that subtly transforms the former into the latter. However, the film’s standout scene doesn’t feature either actor, with Johnson (on the set with Gordon-Levitt, left) showing the grisly consequences of what happens to a looper who refuses to close his own loop, an horrific fate that doesn’t bode well for our protagonist(s) should his employers ever catch up with him. It’s an astonishing sequence that serves to raise the stakes and imbue the film with a foreboding atmosphere of persistent tension. Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt and Jeff Daniels all impress in small roles.
With the occasional hover-bike, flying car and hints at the poor economic state of future America, Johnson offers enough to distinguish this from our own world without overshadowing the story, crafting a minimalist, but stylistically effective, on-screen world. The effects exist mostly to supplement the action rather than distract from any narrative shortcomings. The pace occasionally sags, particularly during a break between set-pieces, but the strength of the performances and the driving narrative keep proceedings ticking along towards a satisfying conclusion. A superior sci-fi thriller and, no doubt, a future classic, Looper is a must-see.