US (2012) Dir. Rian Johnson
2074 and time travel is possible but only in use on the black market. When the Mob wants someone killed they send them back thirty years in the past where a hitman called a Looper is ready and waiting, paid off by silver bars strapped to the target’s body. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper working for a gang boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) who fails to kill a target which turns out tobe his future self (Bruce Willis). Old Joe escapes with the plan of killing a young child who will grow up to become powerful gang lord called The Rainmaker, who is killing off all Loopers in the future. Young Joe now has to face off against his older self to save his own life.
Part Terminator, part X-Men this high concept sci-fi action flick from relative newcomer Rian Johnson who made waves with his Sundance winning debut Brick in 2005 (which also starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Looper is his third feature and his most successful work to date – not much of a surprise with the big Hollywood budget behind it and star studded cast involved. While the focus initially is on the illicit time travel escapades of the Loopers it morphs into a moral revenge tale with one man literally at odds with himself.
When Loopers are set to retire their future self is sent back to be killed, this time carrying gold bars, in a process known as “Closing The Loop”. Failure to complete this task is punishable by death. When Joe’s less effective friend Seth (Paul Dano) fails to close his loop and his own future self runs away, he is hunted down by Abe’s henchmen headed by Kid Blue (Noah Segan) and trigger happy screw up Gat Man (John Eyez). Joe is forced to betray Seth as Abe knows that Joe has been stashing the silver from repeated jobs. The arrival of Old Joe just adds to Young Joe’s woes, by the fact that Young Joe doesn’t like the idea of his future self coming back to dictate his path in life.
Are you keeping up with all of this? Well there’s more. Elder Joe reveals that he wants to kill the young version of The Rainmaker who killed his wife (Qing Xu) in the future, while younger Joe wants no part in child homicide. Young Joe deciphers some clues to the possible locations of the young Rainmaker before Old Joe does taking him to a remote farm where tough as nails single mum Sara (Emily Blunt) lives with her 10 year-old son Cid. After a rather frosty start, Joe gets to talk with Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who says some worrying things about his mother that conflict with Sara’s events of things. What is she hiding? And does future Joe know about it?
Much like any other story that deals with time paradoxes this is one that requires you pay attention, although after a slightly uneven start, settles down to be fairly straight forward enough to follow, before evolving into a different story that has nothing to do with time travel at all. Writer/director Rian Johnson seems to have put a lot of thought into ensuring the sci-fi elements of his story don’t trip over themselves too much which is easily done. Throwing in the moral dilemma of infanticide is a nice touch and makes for an interesting take on justifying the appearance of two distant selves in the one time frame. For some this may seem like a cute way to distract people from not noticing that Johnson has avoided some of the usual pitfalls a time travel story can bring by taking the story down a complete different path but at least it keeps thing fresh and relatively cliché free.
Johnson has incorporated some interesting ideas to represent the communication bond between the two Joes (and indeed the two Seths) – such as young Joe carving a message in his arm which Old Joe finds as a scar and follows up on it. And they feel pain too as we first learn when young Seth is (presumably) being tortured and Old Seth starts to (literally) fall apart. The story slows down and becomes a little more conventional with the introduction of Sara and Cid to the story, following the tense meeting which eventually leads to well, you can guess. This part of the film is quite fascinating in regards to the juxtaposition it provides with the pseudo futuristic world of the city with the hi-tech luxuries and mod cons versus Sara’s bucolic lifestyle of crop growing, wood cutting and other aspects of rural life.
The 2044 and indeed 2074 of Looper isn’t as futuristic as it sounds with plenty of remnants of today’s world but enough designs ideas to show the technological and architectural developments which have occurred and may do without being too optimistically embarrassing in hindsight. This is noted in one scene where Abe tells young Joe to modern up his appearance instead of wearing his “old stuff” which basically is the fashion of now. While a few flying machines may exist, like a hovering crop duster or a problematic hoverbike, things are largely rooted within today’s technological boundaries.
While the focus is on the dichotomy of Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the two version of the same person, or maybe Brit Emily Blunt as a hardened gun totin’ country gal complete with the hick accent, the most startling performance comes from young Pierce Gagnon as Cid. Adeptly blending the precocious with the cuddly he really shines in the scenes where Cid reveals his terrifying true nature. One to watch for the future methinks.
Ticking all the boxes of what one expects from a Hollywood blockbuster Looper is an ambitious and often intelligent popcorn flick that delivers solid sci-fi entertainment after a slightly shaky and bloated start.