When I walked into “Looper” I thought I knew what to expect from it. I walked out of the theater in a trance, and almost felt tricked. Movie trailers in this age have started to give away most of the plot in a few minutes, which I thought was the case for “Looper.” I was given the smug impression I had the whole plot figured out, and boy was I wrong.
“Time travel has not yet been invented. But 30 years from now, it will have been,” tells the narrator, Joe, who is a Looper. The Loopers the title refers to are specialized assassins. The mob of 2074 is sending its “unwanted goods” back 30 years to have them killed, so in 2044, a select few sign up for the luxurious life of being a hitman for the future.
Unfortunately, being a Looper has a rather big downside. If the mob decides you are no longer needed, they will send your future Looper of 30 years to the past in order to make the Loopers kill their future selves. They receive a large payout of gold and a discharge from their the job. This is called “closing your loop,” and sparks the main conflict. When Joe’s future self is sent back, he hesitates and “lets his loop run” — his future self escapes and in now stuck 30 years in the past.
Joe is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis at the same time, Willis playing a Joe 30 years older than the one played by Levitt. These two are the main focus of the film, and the story creates an internal debate about who is truly the protagonist and antagonist of the movie. I can’t go into to much detail about this without spoiling the film, but this ambiguity creates a great internal debate within the viewer. This is only a small part of the crazy thought-provoking plot, and the way time travel is portrayed will have your head spinning.
The ethical conflict takes some dark turns at several points in the film, and I was left with my mouth agape after one particularly twisted scene, involving a horrific act by older Joe, but his motives and reaction to what he does made me understand why and that he had the best intentions in mind.
Director Rian Johnson made his debut with his first feature film “Brick” in 2005, a modern take on classic detective movies. The first act of “Looper” is also reminiscent of this era with Joe’s interesting monologues and internal observations that make the character seem a little more sketchy than would normally be comfortable for a protagonist. He is a flawed man, and when he finally meets himself from the future he can instantly recognize that few of his flaws have changed.
As smart as this movie is, there are parts that somewhat devolve into the typical mindless violence that is so prevalent and often annoying. I would like to dismiss this as an homage to Willis’s older movies such as “Die-Hard,” but it feels out of place in the overall tone of the film. It has its place, but the quality of every other scene in the movie tells me that the writers could have easily created a much smarter resolution.
“Looper” deserves recognition for taking a much more interesting approach to time travel which in many films becomes a convoluted mess, and it does a good job at tying up a lot of the time travel loose ends while asking the audience to suspend its disbelief and accept the “rules” in this fictional universe.
Do yourself a favor and go watch this movie. It is one of the most refreshing science fiction movies to come out this year and will keep you enthralled while also forcing you to think a little.