Looper: written and directed by Rian Johnson; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Jeff Daniels (Abe), and Pierce Gagnon (Cid) (2012): Rian Johnson’s Brick was an idiosyncratic gem, a high-school drama played like a hard-boiled film noir, complete with 1940’s inflected dialogue and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his first defining dramatic role after years on Third Rock from the Sun. Johnson and Gordon-Levitt re-team here for another genre-buster. Looper is at least nominally science fiction, but it’s also a Western. And another crackerjack film noir.
The major influences for Looper seem to be Shane and that terrific modern noir of the early 1990’s, After Dark, My Sweet (though that film was based on a Jim Thompson novel from the 1950’s). Then throw in time travel and, um, telekinesis — more specifically, Jerome Bixby’s Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life.” This is nothing if not a mash-up.
Organized crime in the 2070’s sends its targets back to to the 2040’s to be killed by a ‘Looper.’ Why? Something about bodies being difficult to get rid of in the 2070’s. Frankly, this is the shakiest part of the premise. Some of the other problems with this use of time travel could be explained by the disintegration of organized government, which would explain why there aren’t Time Cops running around the 2040’s. But then, who’s discovering the bodies in the 2070’s?
We’ll give them this as a starting point. The rest of the movie is pretty smart, with nice background details that sketch in the decaying America of the 2040’s without throwing it in one’s face. There’s also an automated flying crop-duster that made me smile — it looks like the country cousin of the Imperial Probe Droid from The Empire Strikes Back.
But having seen Brick before seeing Looper also helps explain certain things, as Looper is equally stylized and non-mimetic, if not anti-mimetic: for one, the stuff with Blunderbusses and Gats seems more like a commentary on movie gunmen than a realistic categorizing of weaponry. Because these guys are all carrying big guns with which they’re only intermittently able to hit something other than their own feet.
The movie plays out with some deft twists, turns, and at least one major reset button. Time travel is a tricky thing. Bruce Willis, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s future self, is tough and ruthless; Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulls off the difficult feat of playing a monster who develops a soul. He’s developed into a fine actor. Pierce Gagnon does some fine child acting, and Emily Blunt pulls off an American accent. Time folds in upon itself. The rules the movie sets out for time travel make a sort of sense right up to the climax, at which point…well, you’ll see. Recommended.