Time travel has always been a popular device in science fiction storytelling and the new thriller Looper uses it to great effect. It lays out a future society in the year 2074 where bridging the gap between the past and present is possible but also highly illegal. Writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) balances heavy ideas in his most accomplished feature to date but also manages to be complex without being alienating, the toughest nut to crack in time travel stories.
As the film begins we learn the initial setup, criminal organizations have monopolized time travel in 2074 and when they want someone dead, they don’t run the risk of killing them in their own backyard. Instead, they transport these unwanted souls thirty years into the past, where an assassin, or looper as they’re called, is waiting to fire the kill shot as soon as they appear. Sending targets from the present to be killed in the past erases all traces of the crime, “closing the loop” as the film puts it. Our protagonist Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such looper and he’s skilled at his job. He doesn’t ask questions, loves to live the good life and is starting to save up for the future.
But when the future literally comes knocking on Joe’s next assignment, he sees that his next target is his future self from 2074 (played by Bruce Willis). The decision of whether or not to pull the trigger sets off a chain reaction of events that are among the most daring and thought-provoking in recent memory. This is when Looper slowly starts showing its layers and revealing that this is a science-fiction headtrip in blockbuster clothing.
The idea of killing your future self is chilling enough but to be put in a cat-and-mouse game with past and present versions of the same man raises questions of morality and curiosity that writer-director Johnson is more than eager to explore. Looper has fun toying with these ideas and pursing the “what if’s” of time travel essentially making this a thinking man’s action movie. The supporting cast of Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano is another hint that this is not your ordinary studio film.
Credit is also due to Gordon-Levitt who continues to impress with his string of subdued and introverted performances. While many may point to the fact that he and Bruce Willis are playing the same character and look nothing alike, that shouldn’t matter. If you’re too busy staring at makeup and prosthetics to notice the thrill ride in front of you, you’re obviously in the wrong movie.
Rated: R (for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content)
Looper opens in theaters on September 28, 2012 and was screened as the Opening Night film at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.