Gritty, dark, violent, mobsters are not the words one typically associates with movies about time travel. Still, every once in a while a writer-director (Rian Johnson) comes a long and brings a fresh, bold take on something as old as time travel itself, and makes it feel brand new again. This is where “Looper” comes in; a serious, hard-edged violent film featuring an A star cast which truly may be one of the more daring and different time travel movies out there.
In the future, the use of nano tracking technology is the ultimate deterrent against committing murder, leading to time travel becoming the dominant disposal tool for gangsters in the year 2074. Loopers are hit men hired in the past (2044) to execute bagged strangers who are transported from the future in exchange for silver, knowing full well that one day they will be expected to close the loop by killing their future middle-aged selves; this is deemed necessary because of the information they would have gained about their employer, and for this the looper receives a special retirement payment of gold bars.
However, when Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) attempts to assassinate his older future self (Bruce Willis), Old Joe manages to escape and during a later conversation says that he intends to preserve his timeline and life by killing the person responsible for creating Loopers who is still a child here in the present. Now Joe must stop his future self from killing a young woman (Emily Blunt) and her child because an unfulfilled contract means that he won’t receive his 30-year retirement plan, and both Joe’s will be pursued by the mob and end up dead.
I really enjoyed this movie, admired its intelligence, intensity and deep, compelling storytelling, and while there’s some weird problems associated with the film they don’t really outshine or overthrow the positive qualities. This film takes time traveling to dark new places, using it in ways to inflict torture, affect memories and cause all sorts of complications and problems that feel more gripping rather than confusing. Having the mob use time travel is definitely original, and the way it utilizes people’s past selves to affect their future selves definitely created some unforgettable dark scenes; especially involving Paul Dano’s character. The cast is what really sold me on this film, though, and this is some of Willis and Levitt’s best work, their interactions are always full of tension; they play off each other really well and make you convinced both of them are right and wrong at the same time for undertaking their personal missions.
What worked best here was the emphasis on the personal cost associated with changing timelines. Sure, time travel jargon is tossed around plenty but it’s their personal motivations and investments that ultimately define them as characters, and in turn, draws us to them. Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels deliver excellent supporting performances as well.
One of the stranger aspects of the film is its inability to properly mix future tech with its modern setting. When you think about time travel, you think futuristic, shiny, more outlandish devices and technology that sets it apart as a time displacement device. Here, we’re in a modern setting that has some future devices, while all the time travelers dress like normal everyday people.
Furthermore, the movie glosses over some fairly significant details that I felt should have been mentioned. Like how did the world come by time travel technology? And how did organized crime obtain and get to know how to work the machine so well that it’s become a lifelong business? Some might say that by focussing too much on the little details that you’ll miss the big picture, but since sci-fi based material is at the core of this story it’s hard not to question its nuts and bolts.
That said, “Looper” is a dark, violently, brilliantly acted film that tries to mix the old with the new and for the most part succeeds in ways no one thought possible. The cast is golden, the drama is simply superb and while it leaves a lot of holes in some pretty big detailed areas, it’s a welcomed change of pace for this genre of the sci-fi universe.
I give “Looper” 3 stars out of 4.