If you are looking for a non-threatening piece of pop entertainment, do not go see Looper. But if you want a challenging and morally ambiguous film that happens to involve time travel, this is just what you’re looking for. Amid many mindless big-budget bore-fests, Looper stands tall as a bravely original vision.
To call Looper’s plot imaginative would be an understatement. Set in 2044, the story follows Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hit man who works for a major crime syndicate in the future. As the film tells us, time travel is invented in the 2070s and immediately outlawed. Criminals send people they want to die back in time to hit men who kill them and dispose of their bodies. These assassins, called loopers, live a life of luxury, rising above the rampant poverty that chokes much of the world’s population. But everything goes terribly wrong for Joe when he fails to kill one of his targets: himself 30 years in the future. Confused yet?
Looper’s major strength is its perfect blend of cerebral drama and hard-hitting action. This is not a crazed thrill ride, and that is a good thing. The movie often slows down to examine character motivations and emotions, making the audience care about those caught in the turmoil. The character arcs of both Joe and Old Joe are fascinating, and it is hard to tell who the audience is supposed to be rooting for.
Moments of shocking violence punctuate these quiet moments, giving credence to the film’s R rating. Looper is a brutal film, and all the characters, good or bad, are capable of some ferocious feats. Bruce Willis, who plays Old Joe, is always in top form when given the chance to bust some heads. He is unforgiving here, and the swath of destruction he creates is both difficult and amazing to watch.
No film is complete without great performances, and Looper has them in abundance. Gordon-Levitt gives a nuanced turn as Joe, making the assassin a strangely likeable character. This is a man who kills people for a living, yet there is never any doubt that he is at least trying to be a good person. Willis is excellent as always, as is Jeff Daniels as a violent crime lord and Emily Blunt as a single mother caught in the maelstrom. And I would be remiss if I did not mention child actor Pierce Gagnon. This is his first film, and he gives one of the best performances by a child I have ever seen. He goes toe-to-toe with the adult actors and nails his scenes like a pro. His character also has a dark secret that makes for one of the film’s best twists.
Looper is a fantastically layered film. It somehow manages to be a sci-fi thriller and an old-school action film at the same time. Watch it — it’ll throw you for a loop or two.