Looper provides thoughtful genre thrills

FUTURE AND PAST COLLIDE as Old Joe (Bruce Willis) clashes with his younger self (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in a diner. Old Joe, after taking Young Joe’s gun, prepares to defend them from other Loopers.

So basically I’ve been looking forward to this movie for around a year; it’s one of the few movies Hollywood has put out recently that’s truly original. There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes backlash against Hollywood the past few years due to their constant pumping out of mainstream-y sequels and remakes and adaptations. Film buffs all over have been clamoring for some truly original material to sink their teeth into. So here comes writer-director Rian Johnson, the white knight we don’t deserve but probably the one we need right now. Still, I’ll just let you guys know from the get-go: I really liked this one.

In the year 2074, time travel has been invented and subsequently outlawed; crime bosses use this technology to send targets to the past to be killed by specialized assassins called Loopers. This is because in 2074, tracking technology has made it very difficult to dispose of bodies. An agent sent by the crime bosses to the year 2044 recruits the Loopers. When Loopers sign up for the job, they agree that eventually their future employers will “close the loop” and send the Loopers’ future selves back in time to be killed. However, the Loopers won’t know they’ve just murdered their future selves, since all targets are sent to the past with hoods covering their faces. Joe is a Looper dedicated to his job, living the high life until his future self appears in his line of fire, without a hood, and gets the better of him and escapes. Yes, this is a very high-concept premise.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an extremely solid actor, but in my opinion he hasn’t done anything truly exceptional yet. The closest he got was in the movie Brick, where he played a hard-boiled detective … in high school. Lo and behold, Brick was Gordon-Levitt’s first collaboration with Johnson, and the duo is back to make even bigger waves with Looper.

Johnson’s decision to use lots of makeup to make Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis is strange, but the makeup is only jarring for a short time. However, I honestly feel that it wasn’t even necessary. That’s because Gordon-Levitt does a truly excellent job at impersonating Willis. The way that he moves his mouth and his eyes, the tell-tale smirk, the soft voiced delivery of expositional dialogue, the mannerisms … Gordon-Levitt has them all down to a T. He truly makes you believe that he is a younger Willis. I feel like this is one of those things that separates a good actor from a more ho-hum actor; the ability to transform oneself and take on the acting quirks of an established, well-known actor has got to be extremely difficult. Gordon-Levitt makes it seem like just another day on the set. You can tell this is an actor in the throes of completely controlling his craft.

This is also some of Willis’ best work in a long while. Seamlessly blending in pathos with his standard action star fare, his performance here is very similar to his performance in Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. In that movie, Willis also portrayed a shell-shocked time traveler trying to make sense of the world he had entered and the world he had left behind. In Looper, Willis injects a lot of emotion into his character and it shows through despite the cold, hard ordeal he must endure in the past. His interactions with his younger self bring some levity to what is otherwise a pretty serious movie. It’s fun to just watch him make fun of Gordon-Levitt’s Young Joe and treat him like the idiotic, stubborn son he never wanted. By the end, though, Willis successfully makes Old Joe sympathetic despite the dark moments the film puts him through.

Emily Blunt proves up to snuff with her male counterparts. Her portrayal of a tough, badass farmwoman is extremely likable, and she does a great job at being threatening when she catches Young Joe on her property. Her character is also a mother, though, and Blunt accurately portrays the vulnerability of a hard-working single mom with deep regrets. Blunt’s work here isn’t game changing, but she fares well next to Gordon-Levitt and Willis. I also haven’t seen many movies with her in them, so I don’t really have much of a frame of reference.

Supporting actors do an excellent job in this film. Paul Dano gives a solid performance as Joe’s arrogant friend Seth, who panics when he realizes he’s about to close his loop. Jeff Daniels provides some laughs as Abe, the future-agent boss of the Loopers. Abe has a goofy streak that makes his supporting role that much more endearing. Finally, I’d be loath to forget Pierce Gagnon. Gagnon plays the son of Blunt’s character, and his role in the movie has been kept a deeply guarded secret. I don’t want to ruin anything about his character, Cid, but I’m just going to say Gagnon is eerie and brilliant (or just eerily brilliant?) and manages to even show up Blunt and Gordon-Levitt in some scenes. He is that good, and his character and performance will stay with you after the credits roll.

Johnson is a gifted writer; his work with Gordon-Levitt in Brick is what first got me excited for Looper, and he certainly did not disappoint. Johnson keeps his time travel in check, and the film carefully follows its own internal logic. It’s a testament to Johnson’s writing that the time travel actually takes a back seat to the characters after a short time. The script certainly felt like it was airtight on my first viewing, although I’m sure some people could nitpick details of the time travel. Usually I am one of those people, but Johnson’s writing did not trigger that compulsion. Everything clicked into place for me early on and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. And what a ride it was; the ending was truly unexpected, borderline shocking, and even a little sad.

Perhaps the best scene, however, was the diner scene where Young Joe and Old Joe sit down with each other and discuss their plight. The dialogue is great, and you can really see how well Gordon-Levitt nailed Willis during this interaction. This script has very strong influences from several notable science fiction films, including The Terminator, Twelve Monkeys, Blade Runner, and Akira. Overall, I didn’t find any major flaws in a script that could have been a complete train-wreck, and I was thoroughly impressed with it to boot.

Johnson’s direction is also very noteworthy. Looper has this insane attention to detail; the world Johnson creates feels alive and lived in. There’s so much going on in the year 2044, and we really only get a taste of it. The sets combine with the great cinematography and atmospheric score to lend a very Blade Runner Los Angeles feel. Despite the movie’s $30 million budget, the production values are through the roof. Basically, I would love to see more films in Looper’s world. Even if I can’t, though, this is the kind of movie that can only improve through multiple viewings. Picking apart all of the details Johnson packed in seems like a daunting and tantalizing challenge.

In my opinion, Looper is one of the true home runs of the year. This is a rare type of film, and what it represents is the fact that Hollywood can still put out intelligent, original movies that excite and challenge the viewer. What it represents for Johnson’s career as an auteur can only be a dazzling rise to the top of the film-making elite. I can’t stress this enough: this is not hyperbole. This is a brave new filmmaker, one willing to take storytelling risks and who doesn’t need towering budgets to convey his compelling vision. Looper is one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve seen in a long time, one of the better time travel movies I’ve seen, an excellent showcase for Gordon-Levitt’s acting, and is just the complete package. For those who love genre films, Looper should be at the very top of your list.