Movie Review: Looper
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
The voice-over at the beginning of Rian Johnson’s stylized sci-fi thriller “Looper” dumps a confusing load of information and exposition on the audience.
The year is 2044 in Kansas, and time travel has not yet been invented. It exists 30 years in the future, but gangsters are the only ones who have the power to use it. And they use it for one purpose. They send criminals from 2074 back to 2044 to be killed by a team of “loopers,” hired guns who dispassionately dispose of the criminals using a sawed-off shotgun looking device called a blunderbuss.
Why the mobsters simply don’t kill the criminals in the future instead of submitting them to time travel is unclear. But this is one of many vagaries in the puzzling but entertaining film.
One of the hotshot young loopers is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who uses the sizable cash he makes killing criminals to support a cosmopolitan lifestyle in an increasingly decrepit and somewhat recognizable futuristic city.
Though Joe has little compunction about the amorality of his job, he does recognize that at some point the mobsters may “close his loop,” meaning send his future self to the past (or present, depending on how you look at it) to be killed by his younger self. It has happened to his friends, and he knows it may happen to him.
Sure enough …
Joe meets his future self, and, before he can decide whether to “close his loop,” his older self (Bruce Willis) punches his younger self in the face and runs away. With his older-self having escaped, Joe has to decide if he wants to kill his future self or refuse his contractual obligation and go on the lam.
You have to use context clues to figure out that Joe is staring at his future self when they first meet. Despite facial prosthetics and makeup, Gordon-Levitt doesn’t really look anything like Willis. Credit goes to the younger actor for finding the rhythm, cadence and smug grin of Willis, but the two actors don’t make for very believable versions of one another.
They do however have a strong rapport based on mutual disdain, cynicism and cockiness. The actors share a couple of scenes where they engage in some entertaining physical and verbal sparring, but the interaction feels of a completely different tone than the first half of the movie. And the motives of both men aren’t exactly clear at first.
We eventually discover that Willis’ Joe wants to hunt down a man named the Rainmaker, a killer who took Joe’s love, motivating Joe to shake the looper and find the Rainmaker to exact revenge.
Despite flash-forwards to the future relationship between Joe and this ill-fated woman, it’s hard to buy into the romance or care about whether Old Joe can find and kill the Rainmaker. Of course, in 2044, the Rainmaker is just a child, which adds an unsettling wrinkle to Old Joe’s mission.
While Old Joe searches for the Rainmaker, Young Joe makes his way to a farm on the outskirts of town, where the beautiful and dynamic Sara (Emily Blunt) lives with her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), a curious and somewhat distant boy prone to bursts of rage that send his mother running for cover.
Since Young Joe didn’t “close his loop,” the mob boss of 2044, played by a wickedly sly and dry Jeff Daniels, has sent a hit man to find Young Joe and kill him for his indiscretion. So Joe must hide out from the killer while trying to piece together the motives of his future self and how he can extricate himself from the mind-bending ramifications of his choices.
As his relationship with Sara moves from mildly antagonistic to familial warmth, Joe becomes implicated in a supernatural drama that will force him to make some difficult decisions about love and sacrifice.
“Looper” provides a fascinating contrast between a mildly dystopic and dangerous future and rural romantic idyll. There are nods to science-fiction films like “Blade Runner” in the futuristic society, but the fact that it is only 30 years in the future makes for a more relatable urban landscape. The clean open spaces of the farm counter the tight, dark cityscape, and the eeriness that lurks in the country quiet is reminiscent of the impending doom in “Witness.”
Gordon-Levitt does his best to create his own character while echoing Willis, but the older actor’s presence and larger-than-life persona distract from the parlor trick of one character at two different ages. Blunt gives the film’s finest performance, grounding the story in realism as she battles to protect and love a child who bristles with an otherworldly air of danger.
Johnson introduces several ideas and then lets them drift away, making for an unnecessary distraction. It’s hard enough to figure out what is really going on with the meat of the story.
As Daniels’ character Abe says at one point, time travel is tough stuff to wrap your mind around. True enough. Though the line almost feels like a cop-out, as if Johnson is asking the audience to just buy into his story without looking too closely at the details.
Despite its confusing logic and ornate storyline, “Looper” still grabs the audience with the raw emotional storyline on the farm and the constant popping back and forth in time. It’s a head-scratching ride, but a fun one nonetheless.