In the near future, a process called “looping” takes place, in which time travel is used by the mob as a means of destroying unwanted enemies. Those undesired are sent 30 years into the future, where he will appear in a vacant field, ready to be terminated by a gun toting “looper.” Since those who commit such acts don’t think very far ahead, they enjoy the wealth they accumulate only to later become victims of “closing the loop,” in which they will eventually be cleaned out and erased themselves.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, an arrogant, drug addicted and soulless mob enforcer who flinches when he’s assigned to kill his older self, played by Bruce Willis. Instead of pulling the trigger and fulfilling his end of the bargain, Joe finds himself in pursuit of Old Joe, who has a different mission than his younger self.
Writer/director Rian Johnson gives us a feast of sci-fi ideas, film noir attitude and splatters of chunky gore. To describe his film in one word: aggressive. The characters are morally compromised and only thinking of their own survival, while the world around them is dark, unforgiving and flush with secrets. Yep, this is definitely film noir, that reliable genre with the foundation of visual despair, unreliable “heroes” and a story that twists and turns like a snake until the very end.
Looper is essentially a mobster chase movie with a time travel twist that feels like its leading towards something truly awesome. Johnson’s first film was the clever high school noir Brick and Willis not only starred in 12 Monkeys, a superior film involving time travel paradoxes, but has gone on record to say he feels this is one of the best he’s made. It’s easy to get your hopes up with this cast and filmmaker but there are some fundamental problems that cause the film to stumble long before the failed wrap-up.
Levitt is supposed to look like a young Bruce Willis but actually resembles a gangster from Dick Tracy. He seems so fixated on nailing his Willis impression, his mannered approach and the make-up get in the way of his acting. Sure, he’s unrecognizable, but his performance never connects. Willis is in strong form, Emily Blunt effectively tackles a role unlike any she’s played before and it’s always nice to see Jeff Daniels and Piper Perabo, both exceptional in character roles.
The violence is harsh, riveting and appropriately off-putting but the story is equally distancing. The details of this world are unique (criminals are rewarded with silver and gold bars and drugs are taken through eye drops) but Johnson’s too-cool-for-the-room style and visuals can carry it only so far.
About that ending: following a thrilling shoot-out with Willis in full John McClane mode, we get a CGI-heavy finale that is quite wild but really silly. Instead of walking away enthralled, the final moments underwhelm and the film as a whole left me cold. It’s fun early on to discover the screenplay’s cruel rules for time travel, but by the time everyone is running around searching for “the rainmaker,” I was ready for Johnson to wrap things up with a satisfying conclusion. He never does and the film falls short of its early promise.
The far smaller, more low key but better written and produced Source Code surpasses this film in creating both excitement, inventive plot developments and, best of all, characters with rooting interest. Likewise, the micro-budgeted Primer is one of the best and scariest time travel film thrillers of recent years. Looper is certainly ambitious but I can’t recommend a film that aims for sci-fi classic status but reminds me most of Children of the Corn.
Rated R / 118 Min.