I loved Looper.
The basic premise is this: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe. In 2044, he’s a looper. This means he stands in a cane field at a designated time. There’s a tarp. A guy appears on the tarp, sent from the future, his head covered, his hands tied behind his back. The moment he appears, Joe blows him away. Then he takes his payment, a handful of silver bars strapped to the guy’s back, wraps the guy up and disposes of his body. Every couple of days a new guy. In the future, time travel has become possible but is illegal. A bunch of young men like Joe, who don’t have much to look forward to and don’t take a lot of persuading, have been recruited by a menacing Jeff Daniels and his crime syndicate to dispose of troublesome rivals. The loopers have a pretty good time when they’re not blowing guys away, relative to the poverty and general degradation they would otherwise face.
There’s a catch though. To tie up loose ends loopers have to kill their future selves. Because the guys sent back to be offed always arrive hooded and in the same orange jacket, they don’t know it’s their future self until they flip the guy over and find gold instead of silver bars. That’s the signal that they’re done looping. They can go live it up for the next 30 years, until it’s time for them to be sent back to pay the piper. Who is themselves.
Bruce Willis is future Joe. He has found something to live for, and he doesn’t want to be offed. Plus, there’s a wrinkle, a future super criminal called the Rain Maker has it in for the loopers. He’s sending them back with a vengeance. Bruce Willis Joe escapes before he’s blown away. He’s on a quest to find the boy who will grow up to be the Rain Maker and kill him off, and by so doing, reset his future. Young Joe has to find old Joe and kill him because what happens if he doesn’t is quite quite gruesome.
At one point, present and future Joe sit across from each other at a diner. This prolonged profile shot gives us a chance to admire the resemblance between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis created by a prosthetic nose worn by Joseph Gorden-Levitt. Also they did something with his eyebrows. I’m not sure it was necessary. There’s no love lost between these two versions of the same guy. To young Joe, old Joe is an impediment. He feels no connection to him and certainly no empathy. He’s all about the now, and that now demands that old Joe go. Old Joe knows all too well who he’s dealing with in Young Joe –- a callow, insensitive guy who (we see through shots of the 30 years between them) never cares about anyone or anything until well into middle age.
There are some artful aspects to Looper. You would expect no less from Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed Looper as well as the fantastically stylish if somewhat overdone Brick. The world of 2044, when Joe is young, is a desperate place. Things are run down. People are impoverished and slightly feral. Buses just sit across the middle of roads, abandoned. The loopers party. They take drugs through eye drops. We learn this through loops of their experiences, which are pretty much the same from day-to-day, giving another meaning to the title.
Much of the second half of the movie takes place on a farm where young Joe lies in wait for old Joe. I heard some grumbles that things slowed down too much at this point. For me, this is where things got interesting because they got personal. Emily Blunt is there.
My biggest rave about Looper is the ending, which is emotionally satisfying and complete. It’s got an elegance that movies dealing with time travel rarely manage because they are too busy trying to be clever. Looper isn’t just clever, it’s smart, breaking a few time travel tropes, particularly the one where time travelers strive not to alter the future, with great confidence. After all, the future has little to recommend it – what’s to protect?
Michelle Fredette is not a hired killer. She does not perform on a tightrope, or get shot from a cannon. She rarely engages in extramarital affairs with CIA chiefs. She wrote this review.