What is so amazing about Looper –the new sci-fi/ action master work from Brick and The Brothers Bloom director Rian Johnson- is that it is not just another movie about time travel. Instead, it uses time travel as merely a jump-off point to tell a story that could never be told otherwise.
A young man sits across from an old man in a diner booth. Both of these men are the same person, at different ages, named Joe. The young Joe narrows his eyes, cursing his old self: "Why don't you do what old men do... and die." In reply, Old Joe coldly declines.
Let's get the plot out of the way: A 'looper' is a hit man-- assigned by mobsters to kill people sent back in time from 30 years in the future. In 2074, it's very, very difficult to dispose of corpses. In 2044 -- not so difficult. Necessity is the mother of invention and thus, a business is born. Joe (the always stellar Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is just one of many loopers living in 2044, making a very comfortable living in a climate one could easily describe as "in economic crisis." He kills by day and drinks, drugs and screws by night in a city that seems to have only two classes: The way too rich and the way too poor.
But every career ends in retirement and a looper's is no different. Eventually, the victim sent back from the future –bagged head and tied arms- will be the older version of that very looper (Joe's older self is played by Bruce Willis) who must die at his own (albeit; younger) hands. This is called 'closing the loop'. The looper has the next 30 years to live it up but, that bullet will always be in the mail: It's not here yet but, it's coming.
Here's the problem: Every now and then, a looper fails to kill his older self and allows him to escape. This is called "letting your loop run." Enter the Gat Men, intelligent (uh, in some cases) deadly enforcers working for the looper's employer. If you can't kill your older self, the Gat Men will kill you. Young Joe knows this, all to well. And yet, he still fails to close his loop when Old Joe (Willis) arrives.
I'll end my description there. Please, don't let that epic set-up dissuade you. It unfolds at break-neck speed; the narrative thrust never slows down with laborious exposition. You are tossed head first into the daily life of a looper from frame one. The victim appears out of no where. The looper shoots him. Done and done. What more do you need to know?
Writer/ director Johnson uses the screen time carefully. Every shot, every plot twist feels meticulously crafted. A lot of love and care obviously went into this project. It's no wonder Johnson is said to have worked on the screenplay for nearly 10 years. The result is like a flawlessly beautiful puzzle, a finely oiled mechanism. This is a far more intelligent piece of work than any of its recent shoot 'em up movie counterparts: A straight up action movie with a head on its shoulders.
Looper's exquisite action sequences affirm Johnson to be as adept with gun fights and explosions as he is with plot and dialogue. Although, audiences may be surprised/ relieved by how little of the films running time is directly involved with the science of time travel. The picture's strongest points are its characters and the ways their lives crisscross and collide. I have a feeling this film will enter the pop culture zeitgeist. That characters like The Rainmaker and Kid Blue will become cinematic household names like Vincent Vega and Marcellus Wallace. (Big words, I'll admit.)
Emily Blunt's (The Devil Wears Prada; The Five Year Engagement) reliably vibrant performance is almost overshadowed by the performance of her son Cid, played by Pierce Gagnon. Her character's plight is an emotionally raw one and she never missteps but, perhaps Blunt falls prey to that old Hollywood adage: "Never work with children or animals. They will always upstage you." Cid's eyes burn with such intensity, I genuinely wondered if perhaps Johnson had used any CGI to enhance the kid's facial performance. It's so refreshing when you come across a child performer that actually seems present and actively engaged in scenes.
Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine; There Will Be Blood) is endearingly sleazy as Seth, a fellow looper and friend, who finds himself in one of the most unnerving yet, fascinatingly squeamish sequences of the year. This will undoubtedly be one of those moments that people are going to discuss. Many sci-fi writers will watch that scene, thinking: "Aw, why didn't I think of that?" It's sick, twisted and actually pretty damn funny. Another scene-stealer is Jesse, played by Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood; No Country for Old Men) a smart, level-headed Gat Man also hot on Joe's trail. Even the most loathsome and unlikeable characters in this film have true emotional quandaries. You feel for them as much as you do for Joe. In an odd way, Looper really is a feel-good movie, despite all the blood and tears on the walls.
Violent abuse has an unfortunate viral quality. It spreads -- seeping down through the generations. A man beats his children because his father beat him when he was young. And so on and so forth -all the way back- the perpetual cycle continuing-- a sickening and tragic loop, throughout the ages. Rian Johnson's Looper is a wounded plea to end that cycle, close that loop. And thankfully, it finds hope in times and places that feel truly hopeless. It just so happens that it's also the best film I've seen in 2012, so far.
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.