Looper (2012) ***1/2 out of ****
Review by: Mark Bernard
Written and Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
R – (for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content)
Runtime: 119 minutes
I’ve always found that sci-fi is one of the hardest translations to film that someone can undertake, very rarely does the production aspects fill the needs that it requires and yet, when it’s done well, they stand the test of time. The bar is high and the average is tragically low; so to see such an innovative mind like Rian Johnson spearhead a project like Looper, I was instantly excited. From the very first trailer, me and my sister knew we were going to see the film. Both of us are diehard science fiction fans and have been disappointed on so many levels.
So we head off to the theater, expectations way to high for what it should have been. An even rarer occurrence is to have high expectations rewarded, to have them surpassed is a truly unique experience and thus when the credits rolled at the end of Looper I was absolutely stunned.
So much thought and care went into the film that in a decades time, I can’t see how this won’t be an absolute classic.
The plot seems simple enough; in a near future, America has devolved economically to a system of brutal poverty. In this, in a future not far from the settings present, organized crime has utilized a system of time travel. This highly illegal system is used primarily to dispose of bodies that would otherwise be problematic. Sending them to the past to be disposed of opens a window of opportunity that they are keen to take advantage of. The result are a brand of hitmen known as Loopers. They execute the intended victim based on a pre-arranged schedule and, taking advantage of the anarchistic state of the bleak present, dispose of the bodies without repercussion.
The one catch to this profession is that the illegality of the time traveling process requires a certain piece of mind. The term Looper refers to the process in which approximately 30 years from the present, the hitmen are collected and sent back to be executed as well. This is called “closing the loop”; once a Looper closes “his loop” by executing his future self, he receives a large payday and is subsequently released from his contract to live out the next 30 or so years with the wealth that they accumulate.
A good deal for anyone living in the utter poverty of the films present. In this world, we have Joe. A looper of notable professionalism. He drives out to the middle of a Midwestern crop field every day or so, waits, kills the bound and tied individual that appears, burns the body, then heads to a diner where he flirts with the waitress.
His nights are spent in a drunken and drugged out haze, favoring a sort of narcotic that is delivered through eye drops. He and the other loopers cruse the town like kings, showing wealth much like the gangsters of the depression era.
When a friend of his fails to “close his loop”, he becomes hunted down and is offered a choice by the current head boss, a man from the future (Jeff Daniels) who offers him a deal, half his earnings, to spare his friends life… a deal he doesn’t take. Subsequently his friends is hunted down and brutally murdered by the boss and his corrupt police force he controls.
The guilt passes in a drugged out haze, and the next day, he again is waiting outside the row of crops, to kill yet again. When the victim appears, something is wrong, he isn’t bound or hooded. Taken aback he hesitates. Immediately the man turns around, absorbing the coming shotgun blast with the bars of money on his back. He then hurls one at Joe and using the confusion punches him out.
When Joe awakens he finds himself hunted. Realizing that the man was his future self he aims to fix it and hunt him down.
This is where I will stop, it’s where the trailer stopped and right from there it seemed like a fantastic movie. What I will say is that Looper goes much further past this simple action plotting’s and reaches the ultimate goal for any sci-fi film, moral, and social commentary. As the second half rolls around, we are introduced to a new set of characters, a mother (Emily Blunt) and her son (Peirce Gagnon) who is one of the best child actors I have ever seen.
The complexities and sciences of time travel are often bypassed, the film sets up a simple set of logic’s that it sticks too. Any holes in this (and with time travel, there are always holes) it seems to embrace as part of it’s process. From there, the film focuses on developing its characters and its themes, like a true sci-fi film should.
To boot, the movie is incredibly well made. I have seen some of Rian Johnson’s previous work and it’s always been thoughtful and interesting. He prefers throwbacks to old film Noir and looper is no exception. This adds a quality to the lighting and photography, which is exceptional, like any good film, the visuals exist to move the story, and the imagery of poverty and anarchy are incredibly well developed.
The final moments of the movie are incredibly emotional and pulse pounding. We have such developed characters that we cannot help but feel for their situations and as its whirlwind of a conclusion unfolds, not a sound was made in the theater.
I saw this four more times when it came out… watching it again a week ago, I felt just as wrapped up as when I saw it in 2012. This is what sci-fi needs to be, and it’s sad that we see it so little.