MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Summer Qing, Tracie Thoms, Garret Dillahunt, Nick Gomez/ Runtime: 119 minutes
I feel I should start this review off by noting that there’s an intriguing moment in the film I am reviewing today where we see Bruce Willis point blank tell Joseph Gordon-Levitt that any discussion between them about time travel would eventually become so complex that it would take some grandiose demonstration with straws at the heart of it to not only show breaks in the timeline, but also show where the alternate realities have branched off from and on and on. The reason I bring this up is because instead of raiding his kitchen to find a big box of straws, writer/ film helmer Rian Johnson’s sci-fi/ action film Looper takes this challenge head on and manages to give movie goers a new, engaging, and extremely well written film that revolves around a wide variety of iconic and creative situations and paradoxes involving time travel yet then manages to make them both easy to comprehend and thought-provoking. Not content with this positive however, Looper also manages to be quite visually stimulating, extremely well-acted by a talented cast of players, and is backed-up by some truly dynamic action beats. Indeed this is a film which hits where it needs, looks and feels like nothing else in the sci-fi action genre of movie magic, and even manages to wax on a little philosophy without coming across as too uptight. Indeed is it any wonder then that Looper manages to be not only one of the finest surprises to come out of the year 2012, but out of the last 15 years of filmmaking period?
The plot is as follows: Looper takes viewers on a journey through time into the far-off year known as 2044 where we quickly learn, courtesy of voice-over narration, that the scientific art of time travel has still yet to become a reality (darn). However for those who are alive in the year 2074, it is very much a part of their lives, and with any distinct technological advancements, it should also come as no surprise to learn that the criminal element has managed to convert this technology for their own nefarious and profitable schemes. To that end, they manage to utilize this technology quite often to help them dispose of those who threaten to make their lives quite difficult for them and have devised a seemingly foolproof manner for doing so. A manner that consists of utilizing people 30 years in the past known simply as “Loopers” who they pay quite well in the form of pure silver bars to bump off targets that the syndicates in the future send back in time to them. Once they have received their mark, the Looper is to completely eradicate the body, since technically according to the laws of physics that person should not exist in their timeline, collect their paycheck, and wait for their next hit. Now lest you think that life was too easy for these particular individuals there is a single yet crucial caveat to this lifestyle. A caveat that consists of the fact that sooner or later a Looper must bump off their future self. Once this happens and they have “closed their loop” the younger Looper is paid a giant pile of gold and give 3 decades to enjoy themselves before being sent back and “retired”. Now at the heart of our story is a young man by the name of Joe who, we also learn, is one of the best Loopers in the business. Indeed here is a kid who is cool, calm, and calculated to say nothing of the fact that is both professional and efficient in what does as well as not really concerned about his future prospects since he has been wisely saving away for a rainy day. A rainy day that tragically comes a whole lot sooner than expected because soon Joe’s older self comes down the pipe and somehow, against all odds, actually manages to evade his death and beat the snot out of his younger self at the same time thus now ensuring both have become “expendable”. Now Joe must evade his boss Abe’s deadly hit squad, find and deal with his elder self who is on the loose, and also try to piece together a greater puzzle that the only pieces he has involve someone or something called The Rainmaker…
Now it really is quite something to get the opportunity to see this film unfold in the manner that it does. Indeed this truly is an excelling of intellect blended together with terrific action moments that we don’t really get treated to that often nowadays especially in a film like this that also is working with complicated aspects to its narrative that nevertheless are handled remarkably well and welcomes viewers in rather than push them away. Indeed this is a movie which actually manages to give off the vibe of being both a “film with brains” whilst also a “film for action lovers”. To that end, it should be noted that whilst this film doesn’t ever get as nose-to-the-grindstone-gritty and the state of things is nowhere near as dreary as say Blade Runner or Blade Runner 2049, there is nevertheless still an intellect to this film that enables It to function as a puzzle for audiences to work through when bullets and fists aren’t being exchanged like telephone numbers between singles at a bar. Indeed without going into spoiler territory I will simply say there is an elegant full-circle approach to this movie in that the narrative may be one that is constructed through violence and violent acts, but which results in an intriguing analysis of morality, the power of love, and the gravity of sacrifice. Thus this truly is a unique film in that it manages to work for quite a few distinct audience groups and then manages to placate each beyond their prerequisite demands whilst also being able to break through barriers due to a brilliant mix of both action and smarts.
Now even though the action and smarts manage to be blended together quite wonderfully, I still feel that each is worth looking at on an individual basis. Indeed on the action side of things, we see that this film is a complete reversal from films like Resident Evil 10 or whatever which just hurls bullets and slow-mo at the movie goer in the hope that it’ll distract you from the lack of a narrative. Indeed, as seen in this film, not only does Looper make the violent content contained therein both visceral and destructive whilst working on a personal level, but it also serves a distinct purpose in the narrative. Yet it is ultimately the more thought-provoking sci-fi ingredients in the plot that are really what help this film to shine. Indeed it may seem like the film has developed perhaps the most faultless scenario for time travel of all. Yet through the concepts of murdering the future to either exterminate the past or preserve the state of things in the future, we see that ideas soon emerge in the form of various philosophical, moral, and just practical quandaries that could arise from what is shown in this film. Suffice it to say then that Looper not only does time travel great justice, but it also strengthens its central idea with reinforcements consisting of terrific action, wonderful work both in front and behind the camera, and a top-notch narrative being thrown into the mix as well.
Finally, it should also be noted that this film is also in possession of terrific work both in front of and behind the camera. Indeed as the older and younger versions of the same character, I am pleased to note that Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are both convincingly similar from a physical perspective, thanks in large part to that timeless trick known as movie magic, and yet also different where it matters the most both on the inside as well as by the concepts of both time and experience. Indeed as the younger Joe, Gordon-Levitt does terrific as a narcotics-hooked and hard-boiled killer who, although he does what he does, is still able to retain a fair degree of his humanity. Indeed Levitt manages to actually look the part, but also play it with an air of menace and a pair of dagger-like in how they pierce into you eyes that proves to be quite the departure from some of his other characters like Don Jon or Ethan from The Night Before. On the other side of the coin, we have Bruce Willis as the older Joe and he honestly looks like he just walked off the set of either RED or the latest Die Hard film. Indeed Willis actually does terrific here as the old guard version of Joe who has seen what will happen and yet, even though his time has come, isn’t quite ready to give up on living just yet. As for why this is the case I shan’t spoil it here, but what I can say is that this film proves, more than a lot of others since RED 2, that Willis is still a good actor when given the right material. Not content with just having these two men duke it out however, the film manages to populate the world they live in with a group of just as terrific supporting roles with everyone from Jeff Daniels who is spot on right down to the low-key sense of menace as Abe all the way to Emily Blunt as a woman Joe crosses paths with who might be a key to the puzzle he is trying to solve all delivering truly wonderful performances that help to flesh out and develop the incredible world that this film is set in. On the other side of the camera, we get terrific work from writer/ helmer Rian Johnson who manages to bring a thoughtfulness to the material and helms it with a simplistic yet dead ahead style that manages to put more of an emphasis on the narrative as well as the visuals instead of completely overriding them. Put another way: he is telling us this particular story instead of defining the parameters for the story total with the result being a film that immerses you and makes you feel like you are a witness to the events going on instead of feeling detached from the narrative altogether thus helping to cement its status as a true must-see.
All in all Looper is a film that with skill and care manages to merge together both incredibly potent action and incredibly potent narrative that manages to be brilliantly dramatic and quite satisfying from both a psychological and a pathos perspective. Yet this film is not one to really wax philosophical as it were. Rather this is a film which chooses to keep the action front and center whilst behind the scenes construct its science and philosophy-rooted foundation and establishes them as main pieces to a greater puzzle. Thus while this is an action film before anything else, it is also one of the more original and more intelligent of the past 20 years thus also making this a true rarity in the landscape of movie magic nowadays. That and when you factor in powerful work from a terrific cast of performers and some quality work in the helming and writing of this film by Rian Johnson, we get a film that is not only a must-see film in every sense of the word, but also of the year 2012’s unexpectedly finest movies. On a scale of 1-5 I give Looper a solid 4 out of 5.