Whenever you have a story that deals with time travel, it typically goes one of two ways. Either you are left with a pretentious mess filled with paradoxes and incomplete thoughts, or you fall onto something a genius that pushes the boundaries of conventional thinking. Rian Johnson attempts to make the latter with his science fiction action thriller Looper. However, the reason for its success is not in its premise, but in its execution.
The film stars Joe, played by his younger self Joseph Gordon Levitt and by his older self, Bruce Willis. In this universe, set thirty years in the future, time travel does exist, but it is highly monitored and illegal for widespread or commercial use. Only high-ranking crime lords have access to them, and they use them for specialized assassinations. The target is captured, sent back in time and is taken about by the ‘Loopers’. However, if a Looper’s older self is sent back, he must be killed without delay or they’ll be dire consequences. What unravels is an intricate plot about the struggle for power as well as a man with a pseudo-identity crisis fighting for himself from two different perspectives.
The idea of the film is relatively ingenious; it deals so heavily with time travel and it takes full advantage of the possibilities while still keeping it simple enough for the general movie going public to not get lost. One scene in particular deals with a Looper who lets his future self get away. He is recovered by the mob who hired him to do the job. They can’t kill him because of the potential effect that could have on the timeline. However, that doesn’t stop them from using his body to carve a message to his future self, followed by other more direct means to get his attention. Sparing the gruesome details, let’s just say one should never cross the mob.
Another interesting plot point is the inclusion of a pseudo-evolution of the species. One in 10 people have telekinetic powers. However, instead of using it as a plot point to show off any kind of special effects, nor does it become that significantly pivotal. If anything, it’s rather trivial as most of the individuals with it “just levitate quarters in an attempt to impress girls”.
There are a few elements, however, that are less than impressive. There is the inclusion of a potential love interest for Joe, a stripper named Suzie, played by Piper Perabo. She is introduced as a love interest, but is quickly cast aside without much of a second glance. Sarah, played by Emma Blunt, is Sid’s mother and protector, however the love angle with Joe here is forced as well for no better purpose than to drive the plot and dictate Joe’s final actions in the film’s climax.
The visuals are less than impressive; however, that is part of the charm of the movie. It is apparent that there is more technology at this point in the future, but it is moving at a pace that is consistent with how we are living now. There aren’t any flying cars or levitating skyscrapers precariously placed on a perch to purge pollution. The streets are slightly larger slums and apparently, more industrial in certain areas of the city, but that is to be expected. It is a natural future, and despite being bleak and depressing, it actually fits the movie.
The characters in this film; taking the premise of the story to the fullest of its potential, is where Looper is going to turn heads and win awards. Even though no one would ever confuse Bruce Willis for an older Joseph Gordon Levitt, we are shown the change gradually enough that it works. Jeff Bridges loses himself in the role of Abe, the older, wiser crime lord who started the Looper program. We are instantly and completely dragged into the story by each one doing their jobs to the utmost. There isn’t much originality to the story itself, but with the actors, making perfect synergy with each other in a setting that feels so realistic the audience can’t help but be sucked in. This takes the time travel sub-genre to a place that’s not really been explored before, and it does so very well.
Three stars out of four.
Looper hits theaters September 28th. Watch the trailer.