By Jimmy Lichtenwalter |
Throughout the history of cinema, time travel has been one of the most abused plot devices. It is a deus ex machina so exhausted that it has developed its own set of clichés and standards that repeat over and over again, film after film. It’s almost paradoxical.
Looper is a movie about time travel, but unlike previous films dealing with the subject, it is neither concerned with time travel nor the vexing questions it raises. Instead, the film adopts a humanist interest and chooses to focus on its protagonist—or protagonists. Playfully self-aware and full of wit and action, “Looper” is a refreshingly original and intelligent spin on the well-worn time travel rope.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Looper has a fascinating premise. In the future, time travel has been invented and outlawed. Crime organizations use time travel to illegally send victims back in time to be killed by hit men, known as loopers. The loopers kill their targets, collect their pay from the bodies and dispose of all evidence.
Surprisingly, being a looper doesn’t take much skill. It merely requires one to arrive at a specific destination in time and shoot a hooded and bound victim as soon as they appear.
The audience is introduced to Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a looper operating in Kansas City in 2044. While he makes more than enough money being a looper, Joe finds little satisfaction in his work. He makes up for this by leading a hedonistic lifestyle and blowing his money on girls and drugs. As Joe cruises around the futuristic Kansas City, it is apparent that society is going downhill. Armed conflicts regularly happen in the streets and vagrants are always shambling around. There is a retro quality to everything from the cars to the guns used by the loopers. Joe himself is often seen using an old-fashioned pocket watch.
Eventually, a looper will “close his loop” when one of his assigned targets is his future self. Once this happens, a looper has thirty years to live out his life before the unavoidable happens. One day, one of Joe’s targets appears without a hood. Recognizing the man as his future self, Joe hesitates and lets himself (Bruce Willis) get away. Trouble unfolds as young Joe tries to finish the job as his employers attempt to hunt him down.
“Looper” wouldn’t work unless audiences believed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are, in fact, the same person. Fortunately, the two actors are more than convincing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in particular gives a captivating performance as young Joe. Not only does he look like a young Bruce Willis (with the help of make-up of course), but Gordon-Levitt also captures Willis’s quiet earnestness and biting sarcasm.
The beautiful thing about Looper is that it is such a unique experience. It isn’t very often that a film of such originality is made. With this third feature, Rian Johnson has made his most innovative and ambitious film yet. Smart, clever and action-packed, “Looper” breaks the loop of generic time travel films.