REVIEW: Looper [2012]

Score: 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 119 minutes | Release Date: September 28th, 2012 (USA)
Studio: TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Rian Johnson
Writer(s): Rian Johnson

“I gave you something that was yours”

Like he did film noir (Brick) and the grift (The Brothers Bloom), writer/director Rian Johnson has infused his uniquely personal touch into the science fiction genre with Looper. Time travel as a concept isn’t new, but how it’s handled will provide varying degrees of success. Generally utilized by the rich or hubristic scientists stumbling upon it, the technology has become a fantasy tool for adventure, discovery, and the righting of personal wrongs. It’s this third form that Johnson tinkers with inside a 2042 on the brink of destruction. Vagrants line the streets, criminal activity is at an all-time high, and the good life appears only possible for those indentured to the mob. And even then the fast cars, designer drugs, and easy women merely breed blissful ignorance until their services are no longer required. At that point it’s only a matter of time before becoming another hopeless statistic.

The mob’s power exists via their stranglehold on time travel despite its illegality by 2072. Sending one of their own back to manage things thirty years earlier, they create a conduit for which to send targets in need of disposal. Hired assassins coined Loopers are given a hand-scrawled time to be ready at their personal kill spot for a simple knee-jerk shot of their Blunderbuss shotguns. The victim is always hooded and anonymous, the silver blocks attached to his back payment for services rendered. In order to keep things extra clean, however, there will come a time when the traveler’s package turns to gold. This monster payday signifies a close to their loop—a contingency every Looper knows about when signing on. This gold body is the killer’s own future self, its death marking the beginning and end of freedom all at once.

It’s a life thrust upon Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) at an early age by mob boss Abe (Jeff Daniels). A runaway with only tragedy on the horizon, Abe puts a gun in the boy’s hand to give purpose. Still rough around the edges despite his bourgeois wardrobe, Joe takes the job seriously and plans for the thirty years after closing his loop. He stashes half his pay, begins learning French, and attempts to woo a prostitute (Piper Perabo‘s Suzie) he fancies for the ride. We watch his struggle with duality as he uses a rusted pick-up for work in the countryside and a sporty red convertible to cruise around under the influence of narcotic eye drops. He’s a wholesome young man with a bright future at ease eating steak and eggs after a kill clashing with the volatile, overly confident kid on a collision course with destiny.

And here is the beauty of Looper: all this is just the tip of the iceberg. As the trailer and plot synopsis will show, sometimes a loop will run. Some ex-Loopers will find a way to make it known who they are under the hood and the realization will be too much for the man with the gun to process. This is why Abe keeps a crew of revolver-toting henchmen like Kid Blue (Noah Segan) around to tie loose ends. If a loop escapes, they need only capture one of the two culprits to rectify the error since both are forever bound together. Memories are changed, bodies mutilated, and whole lives erased out of fear for an inevitable death they’ve known was coming for three decades. But fear isn’t ‘Old’ Joe’s (Bruce Willis) motivator. His reason for living is vengeance.

Now this is where I stop talking about plot because time travel isn’t the only fantastical aspect of the story at work. The marketing material has done a good job shielding this other component and you should do what you can to keep it hidden until sitting down to watch the film. All the action in Abe’s quest to capture both iterations of Joe from the trailers is included in the final piece, but don’t be surprised to discover Johnson retaining his desire to let intelligent storytelling reign supreme. Looper is about the reasons behind the hunt, not its completion. This is a tale about guilt, regret, and rebirth. Those who live a hard life partaking in unsavory decisions don’t often find their way out of the dark abyss. The few that do—like Joe—often see it come back to haunt them.

Above his selfish motivations, it’s also a race for the survival of mankind and the end of tyranny. We don’t know what events might leave an indelible mark on children who grow up to be villains, nor should we think they could be prevented. There is more at stake than ‘Young’ Joe making things right to re-earn his thirty years; the deeds of his other have the potential to continue this cycle in perpetuity or even make matters worse. The butterfly effect is in full-force as a result and Johnson deftly handles its plethora of trouble areas as far as altering past, present, and future simultaneously. With some stunning visual effects throughout, his ingenious way of stopping an early loop on the run via man’s linear connection through time is only surpassed by a later, horrifically stunning act of mid-air violence.

Equal to the task are the performances helping bring this dangerous vision of 2042 to life. Actors like Paul Dano, Emily Blunt, and young Pierce Gagnon excel at bringing an unparalleled level of authenticity to its far-fetched plot as predators and prey are caught in a web woven by mobsters playing with lives like they were chess pieces. Daniels adds some nice moments as both father figure and executioner as Segan’s unfortunate cleaner shows how devotion is nothing without results. But while these carefully constructed characters flesh out the world traversed by two Joes looking to comprehend the definition of salvation, it all falls apart if we don’t believe they are one and the same. Willis’s devastated, remorseful killer on a mission for love is the perfect endgame for Gordon-Levitt’s transformative embodiment—looks, speech, and actions—of his youthful, immortal self.

Joe grows emotionally before our eyes as a result of his older double’s presence. The realization of what he will become—good and bad wrapped into one—will place him in control of his future despite fate or whatever happened before on a timeline constantly rewritten as the film progresses. That hopeful boy trapped beneath a lifetime of preconceptions and bad choices has just one chance at redemption. And while ‘Old’ Joe came back for the opportunity to set things right, only ‘Young’ Joe possesses the capacity to achieve it.

[1] Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as “Joe” in TriStar Pictures, Film District, and End Game Entertainment’s action thriller LOOPER. PHOTO BY: Alan Markfield © 2012, Looper, LLC. All rights reserved.
[2] Paul Dano as “Seth” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as “Joe” in TriStar Pictures, Film District, and End Game Entertainment’s action thriller LOOPER. Alan Markfield Copyright 2011, Looper, LLC
[3] Joseph Gordon-Levitt as “Joe” and Emily Blunt as “Sara” in TriStar Pictures, Film District, and End Game Entertainment’s action thriller LOOPER. PHOTO BY: Alan Markfield © 2011, Looper, LLC

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