PLOT: In a future where time travel exists but is only utilized by criminals, a hitman for a crime syndicate finds himself in a metaphysical bind when his future self comes back to the past with a dire warning.
REVIEW: Many genres and ideas swirl together in LOOPER, Rian Johnson's thoughtful, intense and completely entertaining time travel yarn that is as difficult to describe as it is to resist. There's little question that it's almost immediately going to become a cult classic, and its prospects shouldn't end there, as it has enough mainstream appeal to satisfy a wide audience. That's saying a lot for a movie that starts off as a hard-nosed thriller, moves into time travel conundrum territory, then boldly transitions into something of a western/love story, with a little sprinkle of supernatural horror flick, just for added flavor.
The year is 2044. Time travel exists but has become illegal. Available only on the black market, it's seemingly used solely by the mob in the further future to dispose of bodies in the past. (The past in this case being 2044.) Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a "looper" whose function is to blast the undesirables the mob sends back to him; the victims appear out of thin air, Joe shoots them immediately, and then gets rid of the corpse. It's a redundant life, and Joe's moderate contentment is only elevated when he's high. His only companionship comes in the form of an exotic dancer (Piper Perabo), and his only real "friends" are his fellow loopers and their boss, a craggy mobster named Abe (Jeff Daniels), who is from the future and keeps an eye on things here in the past. Joe is saving up stacks of money so that one of these days he can get out of the life and his hometown (the story is set in Kansas City) and more or less disappear.
Things are complicated when, in the future, a vicious new crime lord calling himself The Rainmaker decides to start "closing the loops," which means sending the older loopers back in time to be murdered - usually by their younger selves. Joe, of course, is eventually faced with his older self (Bruce Willis) and a moment's hesitation allows Old Joe to get away, which is extreme trouble in this world. Abe and his twitchy, homicidal sidekick Kid Blue (Noah Segan) now target both Joes, who come together in a wonderful scene in a dreary diner to talk things over. Young Joe isn't necessarily inclined to care about Old Joe's problems, but Old Joe has a serious message for the ignorant kid, and urges with him to embark on a rather sinister mission to wipe out their future dilemmas in the here and now.
A lot to take in, yes? It isn't easy to boil it all down to a few sentences. This is why LOOPER is a film that needs to be experienced; it doesn't open itself up easily for summary.
What's so fantastic about LOOPER is that it takes its ingenious concept and subverts it oh so subtly. Just when you think you know where the plot is going ("Ah-ha, so both versions of Joe are going to team-up together to take down their common enemies!"), LOOPER upends your expectations and settles into a deliberate and reflective third act that you couldn't possibly see coming. Less patient viewers might find themselves disappointed by the movie's unexpected detour toward a quieter, less frenetic mood (the first half of the film has the gritty urgency of a hard-boiled crime thriller), but Johnson has plenty of tricks up his sleeve and he saves some of the more unusual for last.
It's also to Johnson's credit that LOOPER doesn't get bogged down in the time travel stuff; indeed, the movie's attitude is often "I don't want to talk about time travel." The film isn't about time travel, it simply uses it as a device to provide a dramatic and intense face-off between two world-weary, desperate men... who happen to be the same man. One of LOOPER's most subtle touches is how it never lets us forget that we're watching just one man here, but we also quickly come to accept them as two different characters. Gordon-Levitt's youthful determination is perfectly contrasted by Willis' somber wisdom. The casting here could not be more spot-on, and both performances completely capture two separate stages of a single person's life. And yes, they look sort of alike, in an uncanny way that is completely fascinating yet not at all distracting.
Emily Blunt eventually emerges well past the point where the typical love interest would be introduced, but like the film she inhabits, Blunt's Sara is not close to being typical. A tough single mother who fits right into this take-no-shit world, the character is key to the picture's startling finale, but the less said on that front, the better...
While LOOPER often exhilarates with its thoughtfulness and ingenuity, it also just as frequently disturbs; a brilliant sequence involving a character who is slowly dissolving in front of our eyes (and his own) is probably the best horror sequence of the year. There's also something deeply unsettling about what Old Joe must do in the past to protect his future; it's impressive to see a major Hollywood movie plumb such dark psychological depths. LOOPER is keen to explore just how screwed up its characters are, which invests us in their plights all the more thoroughly.
I wasn't a huge fan of Johnson's first film, BRICK, which won raves for the way it took the tenets of film noir and inserted them into a high school setting. The film felt forced to me, I never bought what it was selling, despite plenty of interesting little moments. With LOOPER, Johnson isn't forcing anything; he spins a complicated story spanning multiple genres and moods that flows so naturally it's like he was born to tell it. It's such a wonderful feeling being in the presence of a movie that is wholly unique and exciting, and LOOPER is nothing if not both of those things.