Courtesy of Alan Markfield
“Looper” is ambitious, to say the least. It takes the well-worn and often-overused trope of time travel and reworks it for a slightly convoluted, but gripping, narrative. And against all odds, it succeeds.
Set in the near-future of 2042, “Looper” tells the story of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Premium Rush”), a hitman who works for the mob that has mastered the use of time travel 30 years in the future. Whenever this faceless mob wants someone dead, they abduct them and zap them back in time to meet their demise at the hand of the titular “loopers,” young hitmen who spend most of their free time getting high or buying expensive cars.
Needless to say, they’re not the most sympathetic of characters. But once their future selves start becoming their own targets (a term they called “closing the loop”), Joe starts becoming wary of his shady bosses. When his best friend Seth (Paul Dano, “Ruby Sparks”) lets his future self escape, Joe is for the first time faced with the reality of his doomed situation. But it isn’t until Joe has to face his future self (played by a very staunch Bruce Willis, “The Expendables 2”) that all hell breaks loose.
“Looper” reintroduces time travel in a way that recalls the novelty of sci-fi greats like “Terminator.” It’s cool, it’s edgy and it’s unique, which is a big relief in this day and age of reboots and sequels. The first part of the film is a bit slow in its exposition, sluggishly explaining the details of this dystopian future. It’s not until Willis’ appearance as the future Joe that the movie finds its hidden adrenaline.
While Willis injects a new urgency and some old-fashioned testosterone into the film, Gordon-Levitt provides a nice core around which the movie revolves. While Willis is basically playing himself, Levitt adds an interesting gravitas to his wild card of a character (his facial prosthetics also help take away his hard-to-take-serious baby face), making you feel sympathetic for his slightly more antagonistic Joe. They provide great foils to each other, and their separate storylines allow the audience to shift their sympathy from one to the other.
The supporting cast is excellent, with a vivacious Emily Blunt (“The Five-Year Engagement”) playing Sara, the typical fiery but vulnerable female lead. Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom”) is a quietly pleasant surprise as Joe’s boss Abe, the one face we have to the shadowy organization. And there’s newcomer Pierce Gagnon (“One Tree Hill) as Cid, the standard creepy kid who’s far too smart for his own good.
However, the standout supporting role was Dano, who unleashes a magnificently nervous and high-strung performance despite his short appearance that culminates in one of the most intense and horrifying scenes of the film.
“Looper” delivers in terms of sci-fi action and intriguing plot but lacks a grander purpose. But maybe that’s the point. There’s no lesson to be learned here, no tiresome moral to preach. Just a tightly wound narrative, some clever time travel techniques and great acting. And perhaps that’s all the movie needs.