Hard hitting, emotionally driven science fiction. That is what director Rian Johnson brings in his time travel thriller about a future assassin who is forced to kill his future self to survive. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis play Joe, a Looper which is an assassin that kills enemies of a future criminal organisation. The organisation sends back the people they wanted killed through a time machine and the Looper kills them and disposes of the body in the past so the murder can never be discovered in the future. Johnson who also wrote the script creates a future world which has elements of classic science fiction like Blade Runner but it brings a lot of its own identity to the proceedings.
One of the elements that makes Looper fascinating to watch is that the protagonist and antagonist are the same character. While there are other villains within the film, the main conflict of the film is Joe vs Old Joe: Joe wants to kill Old Joe, close his Loop and live out the rest of his life but Old Joe wants revenge on a new future crime lord only known as “The Rainmaker” who destroyed his life. Levitt’s portrayal of Joe is of a man who has aspirations for his future, he’s stockpiling his bounty of silver, he’s learning french with plans to travel when retired but yet he is aimless in the present. His life outside of being a Looper is what some may consider excellent: parties, drugs, women, cars but Levitt shows that Joe doesn’t want any of that. The character is at his happiest when he’s showing off his french to the waitress Beatrix at the diner near his Looper site. Levitt’s makeup is designed to have him resemble a young Bruce Willis and at times it works but at others it’s distracting but the combination of it and Levitt’s acting skills helps him transform into this character. There were points in this film where Levitt’s smirk were almost identical to Willis himself.
As the plot unfolds, introducing the audience to the world of Looper and the science behind it, we’re teased of the fate of the Looper’s with Levitt’s narration. The future crime syndicate wanting to eradicate all evidence of illegal time travel have the Looper’s sent back to be killed as well. This is known as “closing the Loop”, it’s part of the deal: The Looper will eventually be their own murderer and it’s a day that Joe knows will eventually come. Joe has first hand experience in what will happen if you don’t kill your future self, Paul Dano who plays one of Joe’s fellow Looper’s and friend Seth is the cautionary tale of the danger of not closing your Loop. In one of the film’s most clever and horrifying sequences, Johnson shows how devastating trying to change the future can be. After this point we understand this world that Joe lives in and its dangers, that is when the film introduces Old Joe.
Bruce Willis gives one of his best performances in years as Old Joe, the character is fascinating as his storyline develops and explores some dark themes that allows Willis to create a really captivating antagonist. The film shows in a great sequence how Levitt ages into Willis that after closing his Loop, Joe traveled but as we saw before he still hasn’t changed. Drugs, destruction even resorting back to killing. But eventually Joe finds love and Joe builds a life for himself and is finally at peace only to have it ripped away by the Rainmaker and moments before he is sent back to be killed, he breaks free, changing the past and leaving the loop open. Old Joe’s motivations as laid out by Johnson make him a sympathetic character but Johnson pushes that sympathy to its edge as Willis’s performance really makes you question how far would you go to change the future.
Johnson combines his unique approach on time travel with unreserved action and violence, this film is not for the squeamish but the violence is used effectively to sell the real danger that the characters are in. An issue with the film is in its pacing of the second half, the execution of the first half is wrought with intrigue, tension and action but after the introduction of Emily Blunt’s character, the action slows down as Johnson makes the audience wait for Joe and Old Joe to cross paths again. The second half of the film and the arc of Emily Blunt’s character really explores the theme of nature vs nurture of evil and the question of the Rainmaker. While this portion of the film is slow at times it does offer fascinating character discussions as Joe learn more about the Rainmaker and the editing juxtaposes it with Old Joe’s journey.
However the climax of the film brings all of the film’s many strengths to the forefront and leaves the audience with an emotionally powerful finale. Looper is a film that needs and demands your attention throughout, there is isn’t a moment of passive viewing as story details can be mentioned in passing only to become relevant later on. This is a film that may require multiple viewings to really understand all of the logic, time travel can be confusing but Johnson builds this film around its characters and the story of Joe is makes for some incredible character driven science fiction.