Looper Review


Looper represents a quantum leap forward for Rian Johnson as a filmmaker. Brick and The Brothers Bloom have their admirers, but these films are child’s play compared to what Johnson achieves with this trippy time-travel tale. It’s a genuine masterclass in storytelling, as not a single element in this sprawling story feels extraneous. And it oozes style—more style than Brick, The Brothers Bloom, or any other film this year.

Of course, it helps when your working with a genius premise. Looper takes place in a future that resembles (at least in the country) the world today. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. Thirty years in his future, time travel will have been invented. It’s immediately outlawed, though crime syndicates use it to carry out murders. Joe and his colleagues wait in the countryside with their blunderbusses (a type of sawed-off shotgun) for a target to appear out of thin air. Joe kills him or her instantly, grabs his payment off the body, and dumps it in the incinerator before grabbing a cup of coffee.

Many of his fellow loopers have been tasked to “close their loops.” When their services are no longer needed, their future self is sent back to be killed. Their present version is rewarded with a pile of gold, and he or she gets to live the next—his or her last—thirty years in luxury.

Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) shows up, but something is off, and Young Joe’s second or two of hesitation leads to Old Joe’s escape and a massive manhunt for both Joes by Jeff Daniels’ mob boss Abe and hoards of other skilled assassins. The Joes meet, and Old Joe explains what life is like in 30 years. A mysterious figure known as the Rainmaker has enslaved the entirety of humanity, and his first order of business is to kill off the future’s link with the past—i.e. loopers. He wants to kill the younger version of the Rainmaker, but young Joe doesn’t care. He wants to make things right with Abe, collect his gold, and enjoy a quiet life in Paris. Easier said than done when your task is to essentially kill yourself…

Obviously there’s a lot going on here, and much of it isn’t easily explainable. Looper, however, is an extraordinarily layered motion picture that deals thoughtfully with the mechanics of its premise without ever leaving its viewers befuddled. It’s a very cleverly edited film with scenes ending abruptly, which might lead to some momentary head-scratching. But like another recent release, Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths, everything comes together. It’s thankfully not a film that relies on its denouement to explain things. Johnson steadily feeds us answers—some of which are completely unexpected—meaning Looper is one of the year’s best paced films. In fact, “year’s best” is an adjective I’d use to describe quite a few of Looper‘s attributes, and maybe even the film itself.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt couldn’t be having a better year (and he still has Lincoln coming up). He carried Premium Rush on his back. He was one of the best and most surprising elements of The Dark Knight Rises. And here, he gives a performance that rivals his work in Brick for the best of his career. It’s a noir-inspired performance, and Gordon-Levitt delivers Johnson’s pulpy dialogue with real gusto.

What’s even more impressive, however, is how he sells us on a pretty drastic character transformation. Young Joe is without question a bit mellower and more understanding than his fellow loopers, but that doesn’t exactly make him sympathetic or even nice. He’s a killer, which, of course, makes our sympathizing with him a bit of a moral gray area. He’s also a drug addict and unafraid to sell anyone out if it means getting ahead. Halfway through the film, he meets Emily Blunt’s Sara and her 10-year-old son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who change his worldview considerably. This could have come across as inorganic, but Gordon-Levitt and those around him (including Blunt, despite her strange accent) make it something beautiful and moving.

But Looper is, first and foremost, a thriller, and few films this year (if any) will leave you breathless the way Johnson’s does. The film’s second half takes its Joes to places you’d never expect, and its characters are rich enough that you’ll loyalties will constantly be shifting.

Violence plays an important role in Looper, though it isn’t a violent film per se. There’s some blood splatter when Young Joe blunderbusses his targets, but the worst of the violence is implied, rather than showed. These implications lead to the film’s most emotionally powerful moments. Yes, Looper is a super-stylish time-travel adventure, but it’s as good as it is because its heart beats. And yours will, too—quite rapidly, as you wait to see how Johnson concludes such a massive, complicated story. The stunned silence that comes with the end credits meant just one thing to me: He pulled it off.

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