- Rated R
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All photos © FilmDistrict
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ian Johnson’s “Looper” has reportedly been in the works for several years, and after watching the film, it’s easy to see why. If you’re going to make a time travel movie, you’re effectively welcoming the audience to pick apart the plot and any logical discrepancies in the script, so it’s not exactly something to be treated lightly. But while “Looper” does a better job dealing with the paradoxical nature of time travel than most, it’s still not perfect. However, the movie presents a really fresh and innovative spin on the genre that, although it doesn’t quite result in the next great sci-fi classic, is definitely one of the better contemporary films of its kind.
In the near future, it has become so difficult to dispose of bodies that criminal organizations use the outlawed technology of time travel to send targets back in time where they’re executed by hit men known as loopers, so called because after they’ve fulfilled their contracts, they must kill their future selves, thus “closing the loop” and protecting the secret. In exchange, they’re given a big payday that allows them to live in luxury for the next 30 years, at which point they're captured and sent back in time to meet their predetermined fate. Set in 2044, the movie follows a looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who goes about his business killing anonymous victims until one day his future self (Bruce Willis) appears in front of him, and before he can pull the trigger, the older Joe manages to escape. Forced to go on the run from his unforgiving employers after botching the job, young Joe sets out to track down and kill his older self to make amends, but future Joe has grand plans to change his destiny.
After working with Rian Johnson on his superb directorial debut “Brick,” and appearing in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in his follow-up “The Brothers Bloom,” it was a pretty good bet that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would play some kind of role in “Looper,” but not even he could have anticipated that he’d be wearing prosthetics to look more like Bruce Willis in order to do so. Though the make-up effects have gotten a lot of attention in the lead-up to the movie’s release, they help sell the illusion that both actors could be the same person without making a very big deal about it. The real key to Gordon-Levitt’s performance is the subtle details that he slips in along the way, including some of Willis’ trademark mannerisms, a throwaway moment where he checks out his (soon to be) receding hairline in the mirror, and even the addition of a slight rasp to his speech.
The rest of the cast delivers excellent support. Willis does his thing as the ruthless future version of Gordon-Levitt’s looper, Jeff Daniels earns a few laughs playing against type as a mobster boss, and Emily Blunt provides an emotional core to the film that’s not present in the first half. The real surprise, however, is child actor Pierce Gagnon as the precocious son of Blunt’s character, effortlessly handling the comedic and more physical moments in a truly pivotal role. Though Blunt and Gagnon's purpose in the story won't be ruined here, it does result in the single coolest shot of the entire movie.
Unfortunately, it takes a while for that moment to arrive, because the film begins to drag once Joe stumbles upon Blunt’s farm seeking refuge, and it becomes increasingly obvious that “Looper” isn’t going to be the action-packed movie that the studio would like you to believe. There are still some great action beats throughout, but even though Johnson has been given a larger budget to work with this time around, everything feels noticeably limited, from the mediocre flying bike effects, to the vaguely futuristic setting. That’s not as big of a problem as Johnson’s insistence that any discussion about the logic of the time travel plot be swept under the rug, because it’s something that is likely going to bother more than just me. The film even ends on such a perfect high that it’s tempting to overlook some of its low points, but while “Looper” is without a doubt an excellent addition to the science fiction genre, it's not the masterpiece it could've been.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
“Looper” arrives on Blu-ray with a nice collection of extras, although it could have been better. Though the audio commentary by writer/director Rian Johnson and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt is a great listen, the making-of featurette “The Future: From the Beginning” is far too short, rushing through certain topics (like Gordon-Levitt’s make-up and the special effects) that deserve more attention. Also included are some deleted scenes with optional commentary by Johnson and co-star Noah Segan, a look at how Nathan Johnson scored the movie, and a featurette on the science of time travel.