Joseph Gordon-Levitt was quietly building a career as an indie film star when he got the lead in writer/director Rian Johnson’s quirky debut, Brick. Critics and fans enjoyed its fusion of teen drama with film noir.
The pair have returned with an even more impressive collaboration. Looper is set in a world where time travel exists, but only organized crime uses it; and one of its uses is to dispose of murder victims so that the technologically advanced police of the future have no bodies to find. Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, one of a group of “loopers” who are paid well to wait at a designated time and place, shoot the person who suddenly arrives there from the future, and dispose of the body. The catch is that loopers don’t have much of a retirement plan; their last victim is always the future version of themselves, a perverse way of tying up loose ends called “closing the loop.”
As we join Joe, he is having qualms about how he makes a living and hearing rumours about how a new crime boss in the future is eliminating other organized crime families. Suddenly all of the loopers are being retired, and when Joe’s future self arrives, he is so startled to see that it is Bruce Willis that Old Joe gets away. This kind of failure is not tolerated by Joe’s employer (Jeff Daniels), who sends assassins to clean up the mess; fortunately for Joe, his older self has a vested interest in Joe’s survival.
Old Joe also has another agenda: to find and kill the new crime boss, who is still a child in Joe’s time. And this is where the true genius of Looper kicks in, because for as long as time travel stories have existed, so has the ethical question: if you could go back in time and kill Hitler before his rise to power, would you? What if he was just a child? Johnson takes it even further, because Old Joe cannot narrow it down to one specific child: he can only narrow it down to three born in the same hospital on the same day.
Determined not to let his older self murder a child, Joe hides out at a farm owned by Sara (Emily Blunt), a telekinetic whose son Daniel is quite capable of defending himself. The resulting showdown is a battle for both Daniel’s and Joe’s future: an intoxicating mixture of Inception, Akira, and Kiss Me Deadly.
I loved this movie, and I loved that it does not fuck around. Willis does some of his best work ever here, as a man so tortured by his past that he is willing to straight up murder some kids to prevent it from happening. Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears prosthetics to make him look more like a young Bruce Willis, which is distracting at first but quickly surpassed by his ability to combine subtle communications with the physical demands of an action movie. The supporting cast is uniformly fine and the production design is sharp, offering a glimpse of a near future where cars run on ghetto solar modifications.
In short, Looper is one of the best films of the year. Check it out.