Once in a blue moon, a movie gets released that is both original and completely entertaining. It's a movie that isn't a remake, or an adaptation, or an adaptation of a remake based on a book. It's a movie that exceeds your expectations and leaves you feeling hope for the future of film. The last movie I recall that was this was Christopher Nolan's Inception. Today another movie has joined those ranks. That movie is Rian Johnson's Looper.
To start off this review I have to mention the first time I watched a Rian Johnson film. That film was Brick and also starred Looper star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I watched Brick on Netflix with my friend on a late summer night. Today, Brick is one of my favorite films. It was a unique mix of noir storytelling woven into a high-school drama (one of my least favorite genres). The two different genres complemented each other so well that it was actually really humorous and terrifying at the same time. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you do, because it's an entertaining and unique film.
So you can understand that when I heard he and Gordon-Levitt had rejoined to do a time travel film called Looper I was more than excited to see how things would play out. Looper was an original film, not based on anything nor is it a remake. That is RARE in this day and age where Hollywood thinks it's a great idea to remake The Three Stooges. How Looper got made in today's Hollywood seems like a miracle, and the results don't disappoint.
Looper feels like a classic sci-fi action film. The world created by Rian Johnson here is set in the future, but it looks and feels much like our present, only with small differences. Cars are old clunkers that have been retrofitted with solar panels to allow them to run. There are hover bikes, but they're less reliable than the clunker cars. Telekinesis is a common ability found in some people, but most consider it tacky and uninteresting. A majority of America's population is living in poverty. Even in the city the film is set in, which features some tall skyscrapers with futuristic helicopters and flying vehicles, the place looks like a dump. It has a slight Blade Runner feel to it, in that this is a dystopia people have, for the most part, gotten used to living in.
In this world Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a special assassin for the mob known as a "looper." Loopers are tasked with rubbing out targets the mob sends into the past from thirty years in the future. If you've seen the trailers you pretty much know this. The beginning of the film has Joe explaining in a narration how, in the future, time travel is only used by powerful criminal organizations for the purpose of disposing of targets. When the mob no longer needs a looper's service, they send the looper's future self for the looper to kill in order to "close the loop." Joe's explanation of the setup and how his job as a looper works is simple and straight to the point. The only explanation Joe gives for why the mob does this is because "disposing of a body is impossible in the future." And it's enough to satisfy you. Looper's concept of time travel has very little exposition, and what exposition it has is very effective. This is one of the defining traits of the film.
However, it's the film's characters that are really the best aspect of this film, with the plot coming in at a close second. Through the course of the film Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Joe comes off as a self-centered jerk. He's an addict who just wants to make enough money to leave the slums of America and travel to France. That's all he cares for, and the way he handles his job as a looper is rather clinical and unemotional. So when Joe is faced with his future self (played by Bruce Willis), he's actually more than happy to kill him upon first seeing him. Of course, future Joe manages to escape and young Joe finds himself in trouble with his employers.
In the middle of the film the focus shifts from Young Joe to Old Joe. We actually watch how Young Joe becomes the Old Joe who arrives in the past, and we soon realize that Old Joe has come back with a plan. As the film progresses your sympathy will jump between Old and Young Joe, both have their flaws, and both have their redeeming qualities. Looper will keep you guessing on who is really the protagonist and antagonist of this film, even though both are the same person. It's this ambiguity that makes Looper an interesting film to watch.
As the film progresses we see that Old Joe's plan somehow revolves around a mysterious character from the future known as the Rainmaker who is systematically taking over all organized crime in the future. The Rainmaker is somehow tied to a mother (Emily Blunt) and her son (played by Pierce Gagnon who gives a really memorable performance) and Young Joe must figure it out before Old Joe, the mob, or both find him. Emily Blunt's Sara is a tough, down-to-earth, woman who simply wants to raise her son well in a time when most mothers sell their children for drugs. Her relationship with her son, Cid, is shaky to say the least, and they are both harboring a secret that is key to the future. Cid is one of those rare child characters that isn't annoying. He's smart for his age, the kid has a fair knowledge of electronics for being only ten, and the grim world he lives in has made him more aware of how terrible the world really is than a normal child should. You like Sara and Cid, and they both come off as deep, emotional, and damaged human beings. All they want is to live some semblance of a normal life.
This film will keep you guessing what will happen next at every turn. More genre savvy viewers will be pleased with how the film unfolds, because it never goes the way you expect, for the most part. Looper manages to make the time travel tropes we're all familiar with and make them feel new again. As for the rules of time travel in Looper, they're simple to follow and very, very loose. Looper is not the neatest time travel story out there, with it's fair share of paradoxes, but it doesn't matter. Everything that happens, happens, and the film takes advantage of it's loose time travel rules to have some real fun. One instance of this is a horrifying scene of a man slowly falling apart as his past self gets his fingers, hands, legs, and arms amputated. The effects used in this scene are effective and will make you cringe.
Looper is one of those rare movies that takes old tropes and ideas and spins them together into a fun, new, and completely original story. The characters are deep, interesting, and you're not really sure who to root for because everyone has complex drives and histories that make them feel like real human beings. For a time travel movie, it uses time travel as an effective plot device that makes for some memorable scenes and story elements.
To put it simply: Looper is a must see film for anyone looking for a great science fiction film.
I give Rian Johnson's Looper 5 looper blunderbusses out of 5.