For the most part, Looper takes place in 2044, in Kansas City. The future looks grim, the gap between rich and poor so hugely massive, it kind of feels like an Orwell novel. There’s actually very little time travel in it, since it hasn’t yet been discovered in 2044 and 30 years from then, when it will have been, it’s quickly and strictly made illegal. The mafia, of course, finds a way to use it for its own purposes. That is, disposing of bodies. They employ these “loopers” to swiftly kill the poor schlep they send back in time and then dispose of the body, essentially making all traces of that person’s existence disappear. When a looper’s services are no longer needed, his future self is sent back to 2044 to be killed by his younger self. The person being killed is always masked upon arrival and shot immediately. The looper only knows it’s his older self when he collects his payment, significantly larger than usual. His contract is complete and he’s free to live out the rest of his life. That is, until he reaches the age at which he’ll be sent back to 2044 to die at his own much younger hands. This is called “closing the loop.”
Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Joe, a looper with an unsavory childhood and a drug addiction problem. He’s good at his job and is hoarding a cache of money (in the form of gold bars – the currency of the future) for when his loop is closed. When that day comes, though, he sees his future self’s face – somehow not covered as it should be - recognizes him and hesitates ever so briefly. Future Joe (Bruce Willis) takes advantage of his momentary lapse to knock him on his ass and escape, putting his younger self in mortal danger. The mafia does not look on this kind of error lightly. What ensues is a clever game of cat and mouse and the slow unfolding of a surprisingly interesting plot, one I’d rather not reveal, lest it ruin your movie-going experience. I walked into the movie thinking that the motivation for Willis’s escape was simple self-preservation, believable enough in itself but much too simple to carry a full-length film. Turns out, my expectations were too simple.
Willis’s Joe has a motivation beyond survival for escaping death and the explanation behind them nicely closes several gaps between his Joe and Gordon Levitt’s Joe. The film appears to be a futuristic film about time travel but really it’s about identity and sacrifice, the lengths to which people will go to protect what’s theirs. This theme is present everywhere – in Willis’s motivation for running from his death, in Emily Blunt’s maddeningly relentless protection of her son, in her child’s (who, by the way, is played with icy perfection by child actor Pierce Gagnon) determination to protect himself and his mother, and finally, by the choice JGL makes at the film’s close. It’s a gimmicky kind of movie done in a very non-gimmicky way.
The performances are solid, especially Joseph Gordon Levitt’s portrayal of twenty-something Joe. My prediction: JGL is very soon to be an A-list actor. The kid can act his ass off. He has a compelling on-screen presence, stealing scenes from the very capable Jeff Daniels and ultra-action star Bruce Willis. Daniels plays Joe’s boss, a Mafioso from 2074 living in 2044 to manage the loopers. What a refreshingly different role for him, and one he plays convincingly well. Emily Blunt continues to impress. She seems to have all one needs to succeed in her chosen profession – beauty and a great deal of talent. If she chooses the right roles, she’ll likely enter the realm of actors the likes of Natalie Portman and Naomi Watts – gorgeous and elegant and capable of carrying both major blockbusters and artsy character pieces. And Willis delivers a perfectly adequate performance, doing those things – running from gunmen, shooting people, getting the snot beat out of him, beating the snot out of others – he does best.
I can’t say that Looper will blow your mind or change your life – it isn’t that kind of movie. But for what it is – an action flick with a twist – it excels above its peers. Its plot is more intricate, more interesting and better executed than many an action film and the performances from every major player completely sell it, making it a movie well worth watching.