Like all movies that crash upon my shore, carried by a seemingly endless wave of hype, I approached Rian Johnson’s Looper with the same sort of measured expectations I’ve learned to apply to these sorts of films. Too often I’m told of a film that will blow my mind, change the way I look at cinema, or, in some cases, change me as a human being, only to find myself disappointed, disaffected, and wondering if I’m so hopelessly jaded or out of touch that I’m no longer able to appreciate what the rest of the world’s critics now consider great cinema. Looper, as it turns out, is one of the rare films to live up to the hype. It’s a deliriously entertaining, expertly acted, and meticulously well-crafted hunk of pure sci-fi action gold, and it’s oddly fitting that the last movie I watched in 2012 is also said year’s finest offering.
In the future, time travel is invented and almost immediately outlawed. The technology is only used by nefarious organizations as a means of ridding themselves of problematic persons by sending them back in time to be summarily executed by a group of blunderbuss-toting hitmen known as “loopers”. The bound and gagged targets are sent back to a remote location at a specific time, where they’re shot at point blank range the moment they materialize, and their bodies incinerated, with the looper being rewarded with a vest full of silver. On occasion, however, the looper is rewarded with gold, and this is essentially the equivalent of a retirement gift as gold is only given when the looper’s target is his future self. This is known as “closing the loop”, and, when said loop is closed, the hitman is relieved of his duties and free to live out the remainder of their lives spending their well-earned take.
For some, this is a cause for celebration, but for Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), this turn of events proves problematic when his best friend Seth (Paul Dano) shows up at his apartment informing him that not only had he met his future self, but set him free after “Old Seth” told him that, in the future, a mysterious entity known as The Rainmaker has set his designs on closing all of the loops. Joe reluctantly offers Seth safe-haven from their boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels) – an enterprising man from the future originally sent back to oversee the loopers who has since carved out quite a niche for himself in the present – but, after a little chat with Abe in which his hard-earned silver stash is threatened, Joe turns Seth in, and learns firsthand what happens when a looper doesn’t follow through with a kill.
Being a shortsighted kid with a penchant for “dropping” (the not-so-distant future’s designer drug of choice) and not much hope for a long life to begin with, Joe has no intention of making the same mistake as Seth, but, when his next hit turns out to be his future self, he’s overtaken by “Old Joe” (Bruce Willis), who coldcocks his naïve younger self, and sets out on a mission to save his future.
We next fast forward through Joe’s life, seeing what would become of him had he closed his loop. We see him continue his criminal career in China, where he eventually meets a woman and falls in love, only to have his happy new life shattered when his former associates bring him in to close his loop. Young Joe, meanwhile, is being pursued by Abe and his “Gat Men” (a pistol-packing group of elite hitman) led by the unbalanced Kid Blue (the always excellent Noah Segan), and decides to get his future self’s attention by scrawling a message into his arm, forcing a meeting at a diner he frequents. Here Joe learns more about the enigmatic Rainmaker, and of Old Joe’s plan to kill him as a child here in the past to prevent him from wiping out the loopers in the future.
Young Joe is unmoved by his future self’s story of love and happiness with the woman he’s destined to marry, and attempts to carry out his assignment, but, before he can, Kid Blue and his men arrive, and both Joe’s narrowly escape, with young Joe making off with a chunk of his future self’s map that details the location of one of the three children Old Joe suspects is the Rainmaker. It’s here, at a remote farm owned by Sara Rollins (Emily Blunt) and her gifted son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) where Joe decides to lay in wait for his future self in hopes of finally closing his own loop.
Time travel stories are obviously problematic, with even the best of them occasionally tripping over their own logic, and Looper’s no exception. One can easily tear the film down and question virtually everything about it, but, to his credit, Johnson knows this, and glosses over the minutia of the time travel elements with a gruffly delivered line by Willis that is clearly meant as a cue for the audience to just get over it and enjoy the film for what it is. Personally, I’ve seen enough bad sci-fi flicks bogged down by their own postulation that I appreciated this streamlined approach, and, ultimately, Looper makes more than enough sense to justify its story and propel us from one satisfying, hyper-violent action set piece to the next unhindered by the weight of superfluous conjecture. It’s only a notch above popcorn cinema in that regard, but still smarter and more inventive than the majority of the films masquerading as sci-fi these days, and is bolstered by brisk, assured direction and a magnificent cast. Gordon-Levitt continues to prove why he’s amongst the finest (and most chameleonic) actors of his of his generation, as his transformation into a young Bruce Willis goes well beyond prosthetics and mere mimicry. Willis, meanwhile, turns in a remarkably restrained and committed performance as the wizened Old Joe, disgusted by his young self’s shortsightedness, but even more sickened by what he must do to preserve the future he holds dear. The two share limited screen time, but, when they do, the chemistry is palpable and electric, especially in the diner sequence in which Old Joe gives his younger self a glimpse of life beyond the blunderbuss.
Sony releases Looper on Blu-ray with the expected level of technical proficiency for which the company who fostered the technology is known for. The image is, quite simply, pristine, with abundant detail, sharpness, and clarity. The complimenting 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is superb, with booming bass and crystalline highs. The films myriad gunfights and bouts of fisticuffs offer percussive, bone-rattling jolts of cinema-quality low end, while dialogue is crisp and perfectly situated in the mix.
Bonus features include a commentary track with Johnson, Gordon-Levitt, and a late-in-arriving Blunt that’s conversational and entertaining, if not overly informative. Also included are nearly forty minutes of deleted scenes (HD w/ optional commentary by Johnson and Noah Segan) that I’m sort of hoping make it back into some form of director’s cut in the future as I found a few of them quite fascinating and adding richness to the characters. Rounding out the extras are three short featurettes (HD) that run the gamut of pre-production (The Future from the Beginning) and music (Scoring Looper), to a primer on time travel throughout genre history (The Science of Time Travel). Also included are an animated Looper trailer as well as trailers for several other Sony releases (HD).
While hardcore science fiction aficionados may balk at Looper’s somewhat relaxed attitude toward its time travel plot-device, bloodthirsty action fans who appreciate a smartly plotted and expertly acted film will be more than entertained. Highest possible recommendations!