LOOPER has just about everything you want in a movie. It has time travel and chase sequences and complicated characters and complex moral dilemmas and science fiction and action and romance and violence and revenge and mystery. Just about the only thing it doesn’t have is nudity, and… no, wait… it has that, too. Damn, let me go ahead and correct myself then. LOOPER is everything you want to see in a movie, and unlike something like DETENTION which just takes all of those elements and throws them together randomly into a giant clusterfuck, Rian Johnson has pieced them all together masterfully and, more importantly, purposefully in this instant classic.
Taking place in the year 2044, the film revolves around the titular profession of assassins who dispose of bodies sent from the future not wanted around anymore by the criminal underworld. In the future when time travel will have been invented, it is so illegal that only those organizations with no regards for the law as it is use it to their advantage. That’s where Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fits into the equation. Here’s a guy with a job that he sees as a means to an end. Each new target that appears hooded and bound in front of him at the scheduled time is met with a blunderbuss blast (think the future equivalent of a shotgun) to the chest and a trip to the incinerator. For his efforts, Joe is given a nice share of silver, which he’s been saving up in the hopes of getting out one day and living the rest of his life over in France.
But, in the future, there’s a new boss called The Rainmaker wiping out all the criminal syndicates. That involves eliminating ties between the future and the past, otherwise known as “closing your loop,” in which present self kills future self. For this, you get a golden payday and the knowledge that you have 30 years left in your life before the time comes when you’re sent back to get whacked. More and more loops are being closed lately, and Joe begins to wonder what he’d do if he showed up in front of himself. Would he let his loop run and deal with the repercussions, trying to escape from those trying to tie up the loose ends as well? Or would he get the job done and accept the hand of fate he’s been dealt? He’ll find out when old Joe (Bruce Willis) makes the trip back, ready to fight for his life, or at least to change the path his life took from the point of their encounter forward.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is outstanding here, essentially playing a younger variation of Bruce Willis as present Joe. He’s got his mannerisms and some of his facial expressions down pat, but it’s really his speech delivery that marks this performance as brilliant. JGL has adopted that very distinct and intense quiet whisper that Willis has owned over the course of his career, and, between this attention to detail and a slight modification to his appearance, Gordon-Levitt does more than just pass for Willis… he’s able to become him.
However, present Joe and older Joe are two completely separate and unique characters, which is a big reason why LOOPER is so GOOD. They aren’t operating on the same page at all, even though they’re the same person. They have their own selfish interests to protect, and, in doing so, they threaten the path that the other is on. Young Joe just wants to turn over his loop, square everything with the syndicate and get on with living the rest of his life which will eventually bring him back to this very point in time where he’ll have to confront himself once more. He’s driven by the chance to keep living, to have his time to experience whatever the future holds, not to be penalized by the wrench future Joe is now throwing into the plans. If future Joe continues to run, the only way to bring him in is to cause severe permanent damage to present Joe that’ll ripple through the time-space continuum and effect the elder version.
On the other hand, future Joe is guided by love. He’s driven by the memories he has that are threatened to exist no longer in the event that present Joe heads off on a different life path. He has a goal to change his outcome, to redirect his life, to alter the future. However, that’s at odds with present Joe, because it would indicate that he doesn’t really have a choice in how his life is laid out. This is really solid work by Willis, who builds an emotional basis for his character in such a short time that you feel sympathetic to what he needs to do, no matter how horrible, in order to complete his task at hand. You feel for his struggle between doing what he knows is obviously the wrong thing, but it’s a price that needs to be paid in order to better his life and to better the lives of so many others that are affected in the future world. Lives will be restored by his hand, but with some unfortunate blood being spilled in some cases to make that happen… and thus, LOOPER introduces some serious moral quandary for your consideration - to what lengths are okay for us to go if it means stopping something bad from happening in the future.
Just writing it out is surely enough to make your head spin, but LOOPER doesn’t play that complicated at all. These are just the ideas and themes buried deep within Johnson’s film that really elevate the film. On the surface, Johnson keeps things very simple, very easy to follow, so as not to lose you with ideas of time travel, which really act more as a mechanism for this story to occur, not the sole basis. Where LOOPER really shines though is in its efficiency. That may sound like a strange compliment to pay a film, but absolutely nothing is wasted in the movie. If a character shows up on-screen, no matter how trivial you think you may be in the moment, there’s a greater purpose to them. There’s a plan very carefully laid out in how LOOPER unfolds that you can’t possibly appreciate how meticulous it is until the film ends, and you realize how important every aspect of LOOPER was. Even the supporting roles of Paul Dano and Piper Perabo and Jeff Daniels and Pierce Gagnon and Noah Segan seem to have their own full storylines that could have easily been expanded out into solo films, regardless of the small bit of time they feel a part of this movie. That’s how large of a world Johnson has created, with no element of it ever feeling glossed over or included just for the hell of it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Emily Blunt’s performance as Sara. As good as both Gordon-Levitt and Willis are, it’s Blunt who is key to making all of the threads of the film work. As a farmer with a son, both who had been minding their own business until the plot of LOOPER essentially found them, there is a different layer of love and sacrifice added to the equation beyond what the two Joes bring. There is nothing selfish about how Sara operates, as everything she is and everything she does now is for her boy Cid. Whether a parent yourself or not, you can understand her need to protect her child, to make sure he’s safe, even if it means putting herself at risk. She’s been through some shit in her life, and much like Joe later in his, she found salvation in something else that changed her purpose. And not only in landing the American accent, Blunt is able to draw you into the emotional dilemma that her small family will be faced with as LOOPER pulls back the curtain more on who its characters truly are and what they will become if events as currently constituted stay on course into the future. And even upon their introduction into the film, when you start to get some semblance of an idea as to where LOOPER is going, Johnson is able to keep you guessing as to the end game, as the film builds up to its thrilling and surprising conclusion, complete with one of, if not THE biggest “Oh shit!!” moment of the year along the way. Trust me… you’ll know it when you see it.
LOOPER is a blueprint for excellent storytelling that can be learned from. Each scene progresses the film forward. Each line of dialogue carries meaning, and every character has purpose. There is no dilly-dallying or time killing… every single aspect of LOOPER does something, making for a full and satisfying movie experience. Rian Johnson manages to keep you on your toes, even as you try guessing what the end game is, something you may only have partial success doing. This is one I can envision getting better and much more rewarding upon subsequent viewings as you pick up the finer details that you may have missed the time before. LOOPER is amazingly rich, which translates to a pretty incredible film. This is one you absolutely must see in the present and many more times in the future.
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