Review by Marc Glassman
Rian Johnson, director and scriptwriter
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Jeff Daniels (Abe)
Paparazzi in Toronto had a great time shooting pix of Looper’s stars and director walking the red carpet at TIFF’s opening night gala earlier this month. Star power, science fiction, violence and young auteur Rian Johnson’s directorial vision are quite a combustible mix. Looper has a lot going for it as a late September North American commercial release.
Time travel sci-fi; violent action flick; heady futuristic art film
In 2044, perfect crimes are being committed almost every day in the American Mid-West. Killers called “loopers” are being paid by organized crime to shoot people from 2072, who are sent back in time by a rich and powerful Shanghai mob led by a mysterious and utterly pitiless “godfather” figure. After every kill, the looper disposes of the corpse—leaving detectives in the future powerless to find the bodies of the victims.
Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is an excellent looper, indulging in casual sex and drugs when he isn’t making his living killing people. But gradually, things turn ugly for him. Joe tries to help a fellow looper who refuses to kill his future self when his older version suddenly appears before him in a Mid-West field. Eventually, Joe is forced to betray his friend by the local mob chief, Abe, who was sent from the future to control just such situations.
Then, one day, Joe meets his future self (Bruce Willis)—and can’t kill him (though he tries). Suddenly, Abe and the local mob are after Joe—especially when Old Joe proves to be a remarkably violent and resourceful assassin. On the lam, Joe finds a temporary hiding place with Sara and her young son, Cid. It soon becomes obvious to Joe that his older self is gunning for Cid, who is his enemy in the future.
Joe is confronted with the dilemma that plays out in every time travel story: should he change the future by doing something significant in the past? Or should he leave well enough alone?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is superb as Joe. Aided by prosthetics, he’s able to convincingly portray a younger version of Bruce Willis although they’re not at all alike. Gordon-Levitt has grown as a film presence: he’s the emotional and narrative core of Looper, not Willis.
Emily Blunt is excellent as Sara, a tough as nails single mother, dedicated to saving her son from anyone and everything that might attack him. Quite a different character from the young British charmer in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen or the ditzy American sister of Amy Adams in Sunshine Cleaning. Still a star, Blunt will eventually become a fine character actor.
Bruce Willis is, well, Bruce Willis. You might wish for more, this being a very clever film, but Willis doesn’t up the ante on his performance. On the other hand, he’s a pro. He certainly doesn’t mail in his squint, his silences or his brilliant moves with a gun.
Rian Johnson has done it this time. The director of Brick and The Brothers Bloom has finally delivered a hit. Cinephiles and sci-fi lovers will notice the echoes of Philip K. Dick novels and Chris Marker’s brilliant short La jetée in the film. Looper is smart—that’s a given—but this film isn’t just for intellectuals. It has heart—and a lot of action scenes. In other words, something for everybody. And that’s how you make it in Hollywood. Watch Johnson’s budgets grow in the future. That’s my non-time-travel-aided prediction.