Geeks, LOOPER is the movie we've been waiting for! A funny, graphic, nudity-filled, drug-soaked, blood-spattered, sci-fi genre mashup, with a clever script, airtight plot, a great cast, and bad-ass action.
Bruce Willis and time travel -- they had me right there. But almost every time Hollywood touches time travel, they manage to fuck it up -- there are always plot holes so gaping that when you get out of the theater (or sometimes while you're still in it), you say, "Wait a minute! That made no goddamn sense!" Don't get me wrong, time travel has built-in paradoxes that are almost inescapable, but it can be done well -- see PRIMER (which was done independently of big-budget Hollywood, so didn't feel the need to bank on the stupidity of its audience). The trick is setting up a self-consistent universe, with rules that make sense. Have the time-travel be very limited, and used sparingly. Have the characters beat the audience to the obvious ideas that would short-circuit the plot, but have a plausible reason why that can't be done. And finally, answer the "Kill Hitler" problem. LOOPER does all of these things, but so effortlessly that it never feels bogged down with exposition.
This isn't a spoiler, because it is explained in the first few minutes of the film: the idea behind LOOPER is that in the future it is difficult to dispose of bodies, so a crime syndicate sends bodies back in time 30 years, where they are immediately met by a "blast from the past" -- an assassin is there to greet them with a futuristic musket called a blunderbuss. These killers are known as LOOPERS, because they sign up knowing that one day they will be sent back themselves, and their young self will kill their old self, thus "completing the loop." Why would anyone do this, you ask? When that happens, the payout is huge, and they are let out of their obligation to the syndicate, and can travel the world, living the high life for 30 years.
But why wouldn't you just use time travel to solve any problem? For a start it is illegal in the future. And even more than that, it is dangerous. Changes in the past have immediate effects on the future. And when you go back in time, your brain gets foggy, and your memories are scrambled. And we only ever get to see one time travel machine, and it just transports people to one field 30 years prior.
As you can tell from the poster, trailer, etc., it is no secret that Bruce Willis is playing the older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, Joe. But when Joe fails to complete his loop, all hell breaks loose. Young Joe is still trying to kill old Joe, since it is the only way to get his life back, and meanwhile gangsters are chasing them both. As far as plot goes, I'll stop right there, since there are other twists I don't want to give away. But I will mention that the rest of the cast is stellar: Emily Blunt as Sara, Jeff Daniels as a crime boss, Paul Dano as a fellow LOOPER, and an amazing youngster, Pierce Gagnon, who plays Cid, Sara's daughter. But that's not all. As soon as Garret Dillahunt showed up as a gunslinging LOOPER, looking every bit the futuristic cowboy, you know it is fucking *on*. I nearly wet by geek pants --- who better than a goddamn Terminator and double DEADWOOD alum to project menacing future badassery.
I won't spoil what happens next, but I will say that it didn't turn out quite the way I expected. Maybe LOOPER's greatest strength is its incredibly tight plot. There are twists, but they are well-earned, and never feel forced. You think it will go one direction, but as often as not, it surprises you. And just when you think you've found a loophole, the characters address it. The characters don't do things because that's just the way the script was written -- every action feels earned.
One reason I fell for LOOPER so hard is that it takes the best of several genres, science fiction, westerns, and gangster movies, and blends them together into something wholly original. There are nods to the conventions of the other genres, but without the cliches. Tired science fiction tropes: flying cars, goofy outfits, and the pristine future imagined by a set designer, are out. These criminals don't act like the mafia or yakuza -- they are sinister and menacing, yet at times incompetent. While it is obvious who the bad guys and good guys are, things aren't just black and white. Our hero isn't some white hat who rides into town on horseback -- he goes to prostitutes (who act like prostitutes), is addicted to drugs, and commits crimes so abominable, they are practically unheard-of in a protagonist. In short, he's a believable gangster.
This is a profound point. Left to its own devices, Hollywood executives would normally have filmmakers sanitize their characters to make us like them more. But here the main character, in both his incarnations, is a murderer and asshole no matter how you slice it. And too-often Hollywood insists on taking out the nudity, toning down the blood, and even censoring Bruce Willis' mellifluous "motherfuckers" to hit a PG-13. But LOOPER wasn't written by committee, isn't directed by a hired hand, isn't a sequel aiming to rehash a plot, and hasn't been bowdlerized to hit a rating. Rian Johnson wrote and directed it. He's one of us -- a fellow geek. He comes to Butt-Numb-A-Thon regularly (he even brought Joseph Gordon-Levitt one year). (Full disclosure: he's friends with some of the AICN staff, but I've never met him.)
Comparisons to INCEPTION, another mind-bending, sci-fi, original actioner starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, will no-doubt be made. I like them both, but I like LOOPER more. And when an up-and-coming movie geek can make a film in league with one with a massive budget made by a master like Christopher Nolan, then Halle-fucking-lujah.