"Your face looks backwards."
I could dish out a thousand superlatives here, but let me just say that LOOPER is great. Really great. Time travel can be a tricky thing, with divergent realities and past and future selves bumping into one another, attempting to explain about various paradoxes. Then before long you're simultaneously trying to blow your brains out while figuring out what year it is. You'll want to stay alive for LOOPER. Director Rian Johnson has generated something special. An intricate (yet easy to follow) narrative brimming with originality, excitement and even beauty.
The year is 2044, and it's a real piece of shit. We're hanging out somewhere in Kansas, but it's like all the cities in the United States, run-down and depressing. The economy is in the crapper which in part has led to the escalation of organized crime. Abe (Jeff Daniels) runs the outfit, a man sent from thirty years in the future where time travel has been invented, and instantly outlawed. When the mafia want someone eliminated, they stuff the victim in a metallic sphere, zap 'em into the past, and they're popped by hitmen known as "loopers."
There doesn't seem to be any special requirements to be a looper, save for a longing to be wealthy and a willingness to kill. They are paid handsomely in silver and gold for each body, but there's a catch: eventually each looper must "close their own loop," meaning their older selves are sent to the past where they must be killed by their younger personas, deleting any record that could lead back to the mob.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of these figures. He goes about his business and begins to amass a collection of funds to one day run away to France. In between jobs he hangs out with his friend Seth (Paul Dano), drips drugs into his eyes and watches Piper Perabo get naked. We're told in the future that a mass exodus (see: deaths) of loopers is happening, and happening quickly. Old Joe (Bruce Willis) is propelled back in time, yet his youthful counterpart is initially unable to pull the trigger, prompting Young Joe to go on the run in search of his older version, before he himself is deleted by Abe's goons.
LOOPER is fantastic because although it's set in the future, it's still based in a believable reality. There are no laser guns, or intergalactic space ships flying around; the advances in technology have given us motorcycles that float two feet from the ground (that more often than not break down), and the reintroduction of blunderbusses ("15-foot range. Anything closer, impossible to miss"), a retro-style firearm that loopers use to exact their duty. A genetic mutation has also caused 10% of the population to develop mild forms of telekinetic powers, though it's mostly used to pick up women at the bar by floating coins.
JGL and Willis play wonderfully off of each other. The former went through hours everyday in the makeup chair, adorning prothesis to get his facial structure as closely matched as possible. Even his voice pattern changes. There's always been a noticeable enthusiasm that he exudes in every role. For his part, Willis actually seems like he cares about this character, which is refreshing, as he too often drifts, relying instead on his instinctive John McClane-like intensity that gave him credence. At a scene in a familiar diner, the two give arguments on why each Joe must survive. Old Joe reminisces about the life that Young Joe has yet to experience. Earlier, there's a heartbreaking montage that reveals the last thirty years in his life, most of it spent aimlessly, pissing away his time and money, once more leading him towards criminal enterprises.
Johnson absolutely nails the direction. His first two features were a neo-noir crime drama (BRICK), and a goofy caper (THE BROTHERS BLOOM), but LOOPER is by far his best work. There are fun action pieces, no doubt. Most notably when the two Joe's confrontation comes to a head. My favourite scenes (and a large majority of the film) happen on a farm in rural Kansas owned by Sarah (Emily Blunt). Joe originally goes there for medical attention, but a friendly (and lovely) face allows him to let his guard down while taking the film in an unforeseen, and brilliant direction.
Joe's actions morph from self preservation to far more noble. When you're up against sadistic gangs, an unknown future, and perhaps something even more devious, sometimes the only thing you can count on is yourself. When you end up as Bruce Willis though, that's not always an option. LOOPER proves that there are new and inventive ways to spin the oft tired tales of time travel. If there are more films like this in the future, we'll all be the better for it.