Science fiction is a tough genre to make a good film in. Sure, many try, but in general you can see a lot fall short. There are definitely classics in the genre, they’re just few and far between. The real gems in sci-fi are still those that can transcend the genre and stand alone as a great movie. They make you look past the often ridiculous premise and just see it as a phenomenal achievement. Does Looper deliver a truly puzzling sci-fi experience or does it fall short alongside its premise?
Apparently, this movie took ten years to write, and honestly I can believe that. There is a lot of detail to make the time travel aspect believable and try to eliminate any paradoxes… wait, time travel? Okay. Let’s start from the beginning.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe. Joe is a looper. You see, by the year 2072 someone managed to invent time-travel. They also managed to put tracking devices on every human which makes disposing of a body extremely hard. With time-travel outlawed and professional hits inconvenient the future crime lords came up with a plan. They send their enemies back into the past where loopers finish the job and dispose of the body. They get paid in silver, taped to the bodies of their victims.
Every now and again, a looper will get a “package” where he is paid with gold instead of silver. That means he just closed the loop. Closing the loop is basically you killing your older self because the crime lords are cleaning any association they have with the loopers in the future. After you close the loop you have 30 years, after that, you already know how it ends. Joe fails to close the loop and lets his older self get away, from here the movie takes off.
That is about as much as I want to say at this point. The plot is intricate and complex. There are no loose strings anywhere, which is impressive for a movie that wrangles with such a complex premise. The time travel mechanic is well explained and a number of sequences in the movie really confirm it as something that might actually happen. There are a lot of really cool moments here as we get to see both 2072 and 2042 come alive. The future isn’t pretty.
All of this is helped by a terrific sense of direction. Rian Johnson (Brick), who both penned and directed Looper does an amazing job steering the movie. He puts all the pieces carefully in place like an architect puts together the building around a foundation. The shots are tight and there is no dead air or weight anywhere throughout. The pace escalates at first and then drops down, giving you an eerie sense of calm. Johnson uses a lot of tricks to effectively set the tone for what’s to come.
It’s a dark vision of the future, with little to look forward to. He does well to paint a dystopian 2042 for the viewer. The material is very mature and expects the audience to commit fully to it. When you do, you see a world that is intricately thought out and believable.
The cinematography is beautiful as well. The shots play around with contrast between light and dark, and some of the slow motion shots are breathtaking. The spanning landscapes of the future both inspire and scare with how real the vision appears on the screen.
The acting is also superb. Joseph Gordon-Levitt steals the show once more as Joe. Sure, he’s wearing some make up to make him look more like Bruce Willis, but he does all the heavy lifting as well. He has shown that he is able to control the screen, and this should very much cement him as one of the best actors of this generation (if people didn’t think he was already, I did). He shows incredibly range and is unafraid to try out new things. His chemistry with Emily Blunt is very good, with both actors playing off each other.
Bruce Willis comes in to do what Bruce Willis so expertly does – kick ass and take names. Quick one liners and that nonchalant way he can kill someone on screen fit very well with the image of the cold blooded killer that Joe remains in the future. However, there is that soft side and here is where Willis shows what he’s really made of. I think it’s easy to overlook how good he is in dramatic roles and Looper finds that balance for the actor to toe brilliantly.
All of the supporting cast is stellar as well. As mentioned above, Emily Blunt does a supreme job as Sara. The two most notable supporting roles are Abe and Cid. Jeff Daniels (Abe) is probably the only actor who manages to outshine Gordon-Levitt in the scenes they share. He sweeps in and takes the show. In the end, I regretted how little screen time Daniels got. I think he is a phenomenal actor, which he shows here and deserves more chances to show it off. Finally, Pierce Gagnon (Cid) is a relative newcomer to the big screen, but he does a very amazing job. Yeah, he is cast as a kid, but he does so many things so well here that I was almost as blown away by him as the first time I saw Chloe Moretz in a movie. I like directors who aren’t afraid to let kids act in more serious roles and Gagnon fully pays Johnson back for such trust.
Verdict: All in all, Looper is a simply phenomenal movie. Yeah, some people left a complaint about a particular plot point hinting at a time-travelling paradox, but in my head it works. I think in these movies you have to suspend your disbelief for at least a second once in a while or you’ll be looking for holes all your life. Personally, I found this to be the best movie of 2012 by far, and probably the best I’ve seen in a very long while. If I had to compare it in tone to some other titles Drive and Leon: The Professional come to mind almost immediately. It takes itself extremely seriously, it delivers the theme and tone consistently throughout and it ends on a very beautiful note. This one, is most certainly worth the full price of admission.