4.5 out of 5
Looper is an exciting and thrilling science fiction film with panache and an active interest in the development of its characters. The world that director Rian Johnson details here is creative and thoughtful, and he manages to keep control of his film’s winding time-travel plot. With its exciting build-up, action-packed mid-section and satisfying conclusion, Looper is one of the best films of the year.
Looper is the second film by young director Rian Johnson. His first feature was the widely acclaimed but underground high school drama Brick, also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. That film was one of the best films of 2006, and was noteworthy for the way in which Johnson managed to insert the essence of film noir into a story about a middle school student playing detective in a modern-day high school.
Johnson is something of an auteur, who both writes and directs his material. At this early stage of his career, he has demonstrated an ability to stamp his voice on his films, with regards to his dialogue and visual style. Looper is a science fiction action thriller; this remarkable u-turn of material suggests fearlessness and a confidence in his abilities that Johnson is able to convert into quality work. Fearlessness and confidence aren’t rare in young film-makers, but true talent is, and Rian Johnson appears to be a true talent, and one to keep an eye on beyond this film.
What’s it about?
Looper takes place in 2044 – America has fallen dramatically from its status of prosperous superpower. Technologically advanced but economically and socially crippled, organised crime runs rampant. In 2071, time travel is invented but immediately outlawed. Enormous, Walmart-sized criminal organisations use time travel to whack guys by sending them back 30 years to be shot by Loopers, assassins who are paid in silver and gold bars for their trouble. These loopers are so called because eventually, their loop gets closed – their future selves are sent back to be assassinated by their younger selves. The younger self usually rips open the target’s shirt (their faces are usually hidden by cloth) to find a mound of gold bars – their final payment before 30 years of guaranteed life.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one such looper, who finds that his loop is to be closed. Before he can shoot himself, his future self (Willis) proves agile and wily, and is able to disarm Gordon-Levitt before escaping – and letting your target escape is a big no-no if you’re a looper.
That’s the short set-up of Looper. But there’s more – a lot more. The film delves into a raft of personal intrigue and mystery about why the loops are all being closed 30 years from now, and what, if anything, can be done to stop it.
Is it any good?
Rian Johnson imbues Looper with so much spirit and verve, and this movie nails it on just about every level. The dialogue is edgy, unique and distinctive. Looper doesn’t sound like many time travel movies we’ve seen before. Nor does it look or feel like them, either. The world created in Looper is thoughtful and detailed, with a mix of high technology and destitution brought upon by economic catastrophe. In its own way, it’s also kind of plausible, and the attention to detail on display in Looper almost necessitates one to slap the tag of ‘hard science fiction’ to it.
Rian Johnson and the creative team behind Looper really care about how this movie feels, and it shows. There are plenty of little touches and asides that may go unnoticed on one viewing, but all add up. Check out, for instance, the gizmos attached to all the cars – no one ever calls attention to them, but it’s clear that they are some sort of renewable energy work-around that society came up with once fossil fuels either ran out or became prohibitively expensive.
All the performances in Looper are terrific, most particularly Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has proven that he’s great in everything. With his young-Bruce-Willis nose and upper lip, he looks the part, and his performance hints just how comfortable as an actor that he is in his character’s skin. The special effects in Looper are also seamless and do not distract from the action at all – there’s one particularly taut, effects-heavy scene that explores just what happens to a looper who allows his future self to return that chills the bones magnificently. It’s one of the best sequences I’ve seen in a long time, in any movie.
Rian Johnson and the creative team behind Looper really care about how this movie feels, and it shows. There are plenty of little touches and asides that may go unnoticed on one viewing, but all add up.
Then there’s the plot generally – a doozey of a time travel story that could have been impossible to follow (or believe in), as many of these films tend to be. Johnson deals with the pitfalls and vagaries of time travel plots with a deftness of hand and a light sense of humour – at one point, when questioned about the logic of the predicament, Willis’ character literally slams his fist down on the table and proclaims that ‘it doesn’t matter!’
Looper is a masterpiece in all of its parts – its tantalising set up, its not-so-mindlessly action-packed middle section and its satisfying (moving, even) conclusion. It is one of my favourite movies of the year.
Editor’s note — check out this timeline infographic that explores just what happens when in Looper. Warning — spoilers (if you can decipher it all).