Film Review: Looper

To say Looper is convoluted may be a bit of an understatement. In fact I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t spend the first 30 minutes or so after getting out of the theatre trying to piece together the precise details of what I just saw. Thing is, that’s somewhat reminiscent of the hours I likely spent trying to figure out all of the dream layers in Inception. Or whether or not Deckard was actually a replicant in Blade Runner (damn unicorn dream!).  You get to be convoluted when the world you’re creating is that interesting.

The year is 2044. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be soon. It’s outlawed in the future, but the mob still uses it to carry out hits. Apparently time has a way of making it harder to dispose of bodies. Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper – one of the men who carry out these killings in exchange for the silver strapped to their victim’s backs. All of this is promptly explained within the first 5 minutes or so.

When the mob wants to end your contract, they send your future self back to you to kill with a final payment of gold strapped to their back. This is known to the people in the business as “closing the loop.” As Gordon-Levitt’s character explains, the occupation doesn’t attract the most forward-thinking people. Naturally, closing Joe’s loop doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Though it’s Gordon-Levitt adopting the mannerisms (and prosthetics) of older Joe (played by Bruce Willis), Looper is very much the younger actor’s movie. In a film seeping with moral ambiguity, he manages to ground a character that can go from hero to villain in the blink of an eye, and in the process makes Young Joe one of the more intriguing antiheros to come along in some time.

He is aided of course by writer/director Rian Johnson’s insightful use of the time travel construct. The interesting thing about knowing your own future is that the concept of one’s life is no longer about possibilities, but tangible realities. Johnson uses this knowledge to weave together an intricate character study, infatuated with the notion of cause and effect. In its essence, Looper is about the choices we make and the ones that are made for us, and how those choices go on to on to shape the people we become.

That may sound familiar, but the movie does a good job of subverting expectations, which is essentially what makes it so engrossing. And that’s true of its action sequences as well. It may just be the futuristic setting, but there’s a certain freshness about the way Johnson puts these scenes together, as if anything could happen. And he uses the action sparingly enough that when the time does come for these characters to duke it out, you can bet it’s been earned.

Still, time travel can bring with it certain complications and Looper is not immune to them. There are a few plot holes, skillfully covered up early in the film with a throwaway line of dialogue here or there. Ultimately they prove unimportant, but when you do notice them they can take you out of the moment for a second or two. It can also be confusing at times following just what exactly the effects of any given action will have on the timeline. Though, that is in and of itself part of the fun.

Really, Looper is the type of film that screams for multiple viewings, which is not to say that it doesn’t impress upon the first. It’s a seamless blend of action and sci-fi with a keen eye for character, which, in case you were wondering, is the full package. Just be prepared for a bit of a mind trip.