With Looper, director Rian Johnson takes some of the established tropes in time travel-based fiction and provides a gritty new spin on them. While this is a movie that takes a bit to find its proper footing, what it ultimately becomes is an engaging and gripping bit of science fiction that is not afraid to mess with audiences’ expectations.
Joe Simmons (Played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who previously appeared this summer in Premium Rush and The Dark Knight Rises) is a special kind of assassin in the year 2044. Thirty years in the future, time travel has been invented. The mob uses it to their advantage by sending those they’ve marked for death back to Joe’s time, where he immediately shoots them and disposes of the bodies so that they won’t be found in the future. The drawback for these specialized assassins, nicknamed Loopers, is that eventually, all of them are let go from the mob by being sent back in time and killed by their past selves. When the time comes for Joe to kill his older self (Bruce Willis), his attempt goes awry, and the older Joe is on the run with a very specific goal in mind to see if he can change the future. The younger Joe, on the other hand, is determined to track down and kill his future self, lest he face severe repurcussions from the mob.
A lot more is introduced after this in terms of both main characters and story concepts, and it would probably be best for me to be vague about them, as certain reveals were incredibly effective. While this film has a bit of a slow start due to the amount of plot exposition and story concepts it has to explain, once Willis enters the picture, things get more interesting. There is a noticeable build to a nail-biting climax, and an unexpected ending that packs a major wallop. Without spoiling anything, the film ultimately takes the stance that not all events are set in stone and the future can be altered through time travel, which makes the stakes at the end all the more important.
It helps that the acting is good, too. One of the best scenes in the film involves both versions of Joe conversing for the first time at a diner. The dialogue here is very well-written and clever, and delivered by both actors effectively. Neither version of Joe is a particularly complex character, but at the same time, I didn’t feel that they ever came off as shallow. Unfortunately, what does come off as half-baked are attempts to introduce romantic elements at the beginning and towards the end, as these relationships are ultimately dropped and don’t contribute to the main plot.
Though the movie is certainly good, a fair warning should be dropped that it may not completely appeal to mainstream audiences. There are some dialogue-heavy scenes that I found slow, and long pauses in between the big action scenes. It’s also quite unflinching in terms of the violence doled out to certain characters. An early scene involving the future self of Joe’s friend (Paul Dano) is downright disturbing, and one of the characters Willis kills takes the film firmly into some dark territory. Don’t expect a happy ending, either.
With that warning out of the way, I’m recommending Looper. Despite some shortcomings that prevent me from calling it a modern classic like some other reviews, I think people will find themselves very into the film by the time the final act kicks into high gear. If you want an action movie that actually strives to be a little high-brow, this is a good choice.