Time travel is complicated.
That was one of the many thoughts going through my head while watching “Looper,” the new film by writer/director Rian Johnson (“Brick”).
The film’s present narrative follows the daily routine of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hitman for the mob. He isn’t your normal hitman with leather gloves and garrote, though. In the year 2072, the mob sends their targets back several decades to a looper, like Joe, who waits with a gun at a specified time and place each day for his mark. These killers spend the rest of their waking time partying it up and stringing themselves along with the help of narcotics. These men will one day have to close their loop by killing off the older version of themselves, as they have become a liability to their employers in the future.
On the day that Joe is to close his loop (his older self being played by Bruce Willis), he hesitates for just a moment and the target gets away. Obviously this doesn’t go over so well with his boss and chaos ensues.
There are several things I love about this film, but near the top of that list would be the way Gordon-Levitt reflects Bruce Willis throughout the film. Aside from the work that has clearly been done to his face, Gordon-Levitt changes his voice, mannerisms, etc. to lend the film a little more believability and finesse.
The two Joes, as well as Emily Blunt, who plays a single mother/farmer in the second half of the film, each deliver performances far more endearing than one would normally find in a film about time travel. But this isn’t a film where acting has to make up for a weak script. Not only does Johnson give each character the depth we need to invest in their different arcs, but there is a back and forth between which Joe the audience is supposed to cheer for (hint: this isn’t one of those films where the two versions pair up to take down a common enemy).
Great care is also given in setting up this futuristic world for the audience. Although narration can sometimes be a lazy way to introduce a film’s world, here it is much needed and handled tastefully. Johnson shows restraint in not making the world look too advanced, while still showing enough creativity to wow the viewer from time to time.
“Looper” sort of feels like two separate films, though. The first half is a sci-fi thriller with loads of gunshots, flashy effects and excitement. Once the median is crossed, everything slows down and it becomes more of a character study set on a rural farm. There are still sci-fi elements incorporated and the quality remains top notch, but it feels a little disjointed.
There will also be some people turned off by the ending, but that’s more on the viewer than the filmmaker. I can honestly say I didn’t see the ending coming until it was already unfolding and it was much different than I was thinking it would be going into the film.
Usually when a film uses time travel and alternate realities as part of its story, there are loose threads everywhere (see: “Men in Black 3”), but “Looper” does its best to address certain issues that arise in these conversations. However, as Bruce Willis says at one point during the film, thinking about all the different rabbit holes the film could travel down will just fry your brain.The result is a competent film that entertains the audience while not trying to spoonfeed them too much.
“Looper” is a great September release that provides a breath of fresh air between four supernatural horror films, several animated movies and lackluster action sequels.