Bruce Willis might have top billing in the credits, but make no mistake. It’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt who carries Looper, an innovative, character-driven sci-fi thriller that’s easily the best non-superhero entry in the genre this year.
What’s it about?
Levitt stars as Joe, a young man making a living in the year 2044 as a “looper”, a very unique kind of assassin.
Thirty years ahead of Joe’s present, time travel exists and is completely illegal. It’s used by that time’s criminals in order to dispose of people who cross them, since disposal of a corpse in their era is next to impossible.
The process is simple. Send the offending party back in time 30 years to a place where a looper is waiting to shoot them. Then let the looper dispose of the body and collect their payment.
Eventually the time will come when the syndicate decides it’s time to “close the loop”, meaning that it’s time to get rid of the looper. They find the looper’s future self, attach final payment to his soon-to-be corpse and send him back in time to be executed by his younger self.
Joe knows the rules. He’s saving his half of his silver for that inevitable retirement, and he’s content to live it up with the other half. He spends his payments on vintage clothes and a dancer (Piper Perabo, Covert Affairs) he has to pay to spend time with.
But that’s when all his plans and the life he’s known get knocked for a … well, a loop. His older self (Bruce Willis) arrives in the past on a mission of his own and manages to escape his execution.
And then things get really interesting. With the tight-lipped determination we’ve come to expect from Willis-ian action heroes, “Old Joe” is not about to let anyone, not even his younger self, stop him from getting his man, or in this case, his boy.
No dumbing things down
What makes Looper work so well is that it doesn’t insult its audience by spelling everything out.
For example, the film never explains the mechanism through which time travel works. It’s simply part of this world’s future, and the characters deal with it.
The script, written by director Rian Johnson, isn’t laden with techno babble or needless exposition. Like the loopers themselves, you’re only given the information you need for context. The rest is left to the actors to bring to life.
Johnson also avoids ruining the film with a pat, neat bow-tie ending. If Looper held your attention from beginning to end, then you’re sure to be talking about the finale and what it means with whoever you saw the film with for hours after. You may even want to see the film again to figure things out.
Gordon-Levitt breaks out
Speaking of the actors, Johnson, who also wrote the film, provides everyone in this ensemble plenty to work with.
Emily Blunt and young Pierce Gagnon, who play a tough mom and the child in her care, respoectively each turn in memorable performances. Willis does what he does best, conveying both iron resolve and vulnerability. Arguably, he delivers his finest work in this genre since that other time-traveling thriller, 12 Monkeys.
But it’s Gordon-Levitt who’s the true star here. Yes, he’s acting through prosthetics designed to help him physically resemble Willis.
But what makes the portrayal utterly convincing isn’t the incredible make-up job. It’s his mastery of Willis’ trademark smirk, his squinty-eyed glare, and all the other mannerisms we’ve been enjoying since the Die Hard days.
Undoubtedly, one of the most arresting scenes in the film is when the two men, Young Joe and Old Joe, face each other across a table in a run-down diner. They trade quips, soft-spoken threats, and eerily-similar stares.
You have to wonder what Willis himself must have been thinking, looking at “himself” like that.
Starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, and Jeff Daniels. Directed by Rian Johnson.
Running Time: 118 minutes
Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.