The great thing about Looper is that it blends smart sci-fi with exciting action without losing anything from either element – that’s a smart trick to pull off. It has a strong and simple hook: in the future, time travel has been invented but immediately banned, used illegally by gangsters to send back people they want disposed in the past. However, it uses it for a film that has heart without being sentimental and characters you care about. Writer/director Rian Johnson has made one of the best time-travel action films (a small field).
Joseph Gordon Levitt is Joe Simmons, a ‘looper’ – an assassin who kills the people sent back in time. Things get complicated when his older self, played by Bruce Willis, comes back in time to try to prevent certain aspects of his timeline from coming to fruition, in a violent fashion, and younger Joe has to stop him (called ‘closing the loop’). Levitt has some prosthetic make-up to create a look that resembles a younger Willis, but he also does a great job of playing a younger Willis, with his pauses, his stare and the clipped delivery (another example of Levitt being really good in a really good film – he’s having a great run at the moment). It’s one of the many things that is so enjoyable in this film.
The film is set in the near future (and the ‘30 years ahead’ future), something it does with production design that doesn’t overwhelm because there are only a few touches that are needed to distinguish the timelines – there is also a great sequence where we see a quick montage of young Joe to older Joe that is done really well – and it’s not that important to the story. Because the story is the main draw: it deals with retribution and hope and love and family and loss, all while including guns and fists and bloody violence.
In addition to the leads, the film also stars an always excellent Emily Blunt, a suitably gruff Jeff Daniels, and an amazing performance from the young Pierce Gagnon, who plays Blunt’s son, and is a pivotal part of the plot, as well as being believably terrifying. Johnson holds all this together with a firm control of the plot mechanics and character, with a script that eschews the hipster noir dialogue of (the also excellent) Brick and brings together all elements of the time travel aspect and the emotional angle. Looper is a great movie, entertaining, thoughtful, exciting and gripping, and I’m going to enjoy watching it again and again.