Time travel movies can be tricky. First off, these movies are always, by necessity, science fiction movies. When you delve into that arena, you have to deal with sci-fi fans, and they can sometimes be the hardest audience to please. They analyze everything and pick everything apart. Time travel, therefore, is a thing that almost automatically leads to paradoxes. The movies that try to deal with them often end up creating more.
Let’s look at a famous example. If John Connor of the Terminator movies (let’s just look at the first and second movies, shall we?) succeeds in preventing SkyNet from coming into existence, he, himself, has to vanish from existence. Since his father was sent back in time in the first movie to save Sarah Connor, if the stops SkyNet, there would never be a reason to send his father back in time, thus Sarah and Kyle Reese never meet. You get the idea.
The new film by director Rian Johnson, Looper, tackles the trickiness of time travel. Not only does it manage to do it well, Johnson also manages to craft and construct one of the best sci-fi thrillers in years, and probably one of the best movies of 2012.
The movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (one of our best young actors who is suddenly seemingly in every movie lately) as a man named Joe. He is the titular “looper.” Time travel does not exist in 2044, where the “present” of the film takes place, but it does 30 years into the future. However, as soon as time travel was created, it was outlawed and you know when you outlaw time travel, only outlaws will have time travel. So, the mob in the future, where it has become almost impossible to dispose of a body, sends anyone they want eliminated back 30 years. The Loopers get a time and a location and the victims pop into existence from the future in a brown jacket and white hood and with a load of pure silver strapped to their backs. The looper has a gun and immediately blows them away. Then the looper disposes of the body and a body that does not actually exist in the present is eliminated and there’s nothing in the future to implicate the mob and it’s all nice and neat.
The one hitch is that each looper eventually will have his own contract ended. When that happens, their future self is sent back and they have to kill them. That means that their contract has been ended and they have “closed the loop.” The future self comes with a small fortune in gold strapped to their body as payment and the hitman can then go live the rest of their lives.
Joe is a hitman and he’s good at his job. He longs for the day that his contract will end and he will head off to France. Then, when one of his best friends is asked to close his loop, but lets his future self go, Joe sees the price you pay. In an amazing scene, the future version of Joe’s friend suddenly sees parts of his body vanishing as the version of him in the present is slowly tortured. It’s a brilliant scene.
Then Old Joe (Bruce Willis) comes into the present. He has no hood. He fights Young Joe. He gets away. Now Joe has to save himself by shooting his future self. At the same time Old Joe has an agenda. A new crime boss in the future, named the Rainmaker, has taken over, brutally, and is closing all the loops. Old Joe things a young boy who will become the Rainmaker is alive in Young Joe’s time and he intends to kill him.
Well, if you are not paying attention, it might get that way. But that is the brilliance of this film. There is action. There is violence. There are guns going off, explosions, good guys (well, lesser bad guys) and bad guys. At the same time, the movie clearly establishes how the rules of time travel work within its storyline (you can change your future…er….past?) and then it sticks to it. It establishes these people as characters, not just a reason to fly from one action sequence to another. By adding that layer of depth to the story, you are invested, care about Joe and the people he runs across, and are stunned.
Folks, I am notorious for having to go to the bathroom during movies, no matter what movie it is. I had to go during Looper, but the movie was too good, the plot unraveling before me at such a rate, there was simply no time to hit the restroom. Skip the beverage or get a small one before you see this.
All of the performances are excellent. From Gordon-Levitt, who is always solid, to an amazing nearly-silent performance from Willis (his best in years). Willis has visited time travel before in 12 Monkeys, and since that one was also excellent, perhaps he should stick with time travel movies. Emily Blunt does an amazing American, Midwest, accent. Even young Pierce Gagnon is excellent as the young boy who may or may not be the future Rainmaker.
The story is tight, deep and moves right along. The surprises are big and exciting. The plot is just excellent. The performances stellar. The directing is spot on. The special effects are excellent. All in all, this movie hits it way out of the park on nearly every level.
Forget the remakes and the other sci-fi movies that have been out this summer. Looper is the one to see. It is one of the best movies of the year.