by Jase Howell
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has made quite a leap as an actor in recent years. The guy once known strictly for his character on the television series “3rd Rock from the Sun” has managed to shake the type of typecasting that could have easily left him in the dust bin, and has instead become one Hollywood’s busiest and exciting actors.
From independent films such as “Brick,” “The Lookout” and “500 Days of Summer” to blockbusters such “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Inception” and “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra,” Gordon-Levitt has stripped anyway any chance of being remembered strictly for his TV days. His latest film, “Looper,” continues his hot streak of picking interesting and challenging roles.
“Looper” is a sci-fi flick involving time travel, and alternate outcomes that may leave one tempted to ask too many questions about the theories set out in the film. Writer/director Rian Johnson (“Brick”) has already meticulously thought this through, and wraps everything up nicely by the conclusion. Dwelling on questions while watching this movie will only distract from what is an extremely exciting and wellbalanced film.
The year is 2042 and Joe (Levitt) is a “looper,” or contract killer for the Mob. It seems that in the future, the secrets of time travel have been uncovered, and although it is forbidden the Mob finds a way to utilize it. In the year 2072 the mobsters send back in time people they want to “disappear,” and after traveling through a portal the unlucky time-travelers arrive in a cornfield in 2042 where a looper awaits with a shotgun and quickly disposes of them.
This is a job for those that are morally flexible, and not truly concerned with the future. You see, what the loopers know but don’t dwell on is the fact they as well will eventually have to be taken out of the equation. At some point a looper’s future self will appear hooded before him, and the looper circa 2042 will blast away, thus setting the clock ticking toward the final 30 years of his life. This period before the inevitable is called “closing the loop,” and as we see in early scenes those that attempt to escape face brutal consequences. The man in charge in 2042, Abe (Jeff Daniels), executes with extreme prejudice. In Joe’s case, a steady diet of prostitutes and heavy drugs keep him from dwelling on this too much — until he hears rumblings that a new boss named “the Rainmaker” has emerged in 2072 and is closing everyone’s loops.
Suffice to say, it isn’t long before Joe encounters his future self (Bruce Willis). He knows this before he can fire his shotgun because old Joe has come back without a bag over his head. Things go wrong and old Joe is now loose, attempting to change things come 2072 by finding the Rainmaker and killing him.
The Rainmaker would, of course, only be a child in 2042, but this does not deter old Joe; thus, the chase begins. Young Joe must find his older self and finish the job, and attempt to beg forgiveness from Abe, who already has his violent goons on the trail of both Joes.
This may sound confusing, but the film does a nice job of explaining and laying things out smoothly while the action explodes. “Looper” slows the pace in the moments it needs to, such as the inevitable face-to-face chat between the two Joes in a diner. The dialogue and execution here are pretty impressive — Johnson’s script handles the scenario pitch-perfect, with both versions regarding each other with curiosity, but neither willing to change his plans. The scene is relatively short and without, which is why it works so well. It also works to further explain how old Joe plans on finding the Rainmaker. It also gives old Joe a chance to lose his younger version again in the cornfields.
While old Joe continues his quest, Joe finds himself seeking refuge at a farmhouse inhabited by Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon). Sara grudgingly lets Joe stay, though everyone has secrets. Joe is obviously keeping his identity and that of his prey close to the vest, and we get the feeling Sara and Cid are definitely hiding secrets of their own. Where the film goes from here I’ll leave you to discover, you may see some of the twists coming, but the film is so compelling we’re definitely invested in the ride.
The performances here are all what they need to be. Levitt is right on the mark as the cold-blooded junkie killer; Bruce Willis makes the most of his surprisingly limited screen time; and Daniels and Blunt are both quality performers and stand out.
Johnson has made a truly original film. It’s sci-fi blended with film noir and in some ways reminiscent of the classic “Blade Runner,” without the amped up visuals. “Looper” is one of the most intriguing sci-fi flicks to come around in some time, but you don’t have to be a sci-fi geek to appreciate the various tones and emotions Johnson is able to convey in this splendid film.