As science evolves, so does our ability to do good. But so does our ability to do wrong. In a dystopian 2044, science has advanced enough to allow limited time-travel and since it is nearly impossible to dispose of bodies in the future, the technology (which is outlawed in the year 2074, and controlled by a Kansas City crime syndicate) is used to bring victims to their deaths in their past.
Abe Mitchell (Jeff Daniels) controls the crime syndicate, which works using “loopers” (contracted killers) to kill victims with concealed faces who are sent to them at specific coordinates at specific times. They are paid in silver bars strapped to the victims. If the looper is still alive in 2074, they are found, sent back in time, and killed by their younger selves. Once it’s time for a looper to retire, they are sent their future selves, thereby “closing the loop”, and are given a retirement package in the form of gold bars.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the best loopers in the business. He’s quick, and efficient, and though loopers are a group which widely consists of petty vandals and functional drug addicts, with him being no exception, he is generally respected, and has the foresight to have started saving for his future. He notices a huge increase of loops being closed, with loopers celebrating their retirements at the local bar, but doesn’t care enough to probe too deeply.
Joe’s friend, Seth (Paul Dano), is a low-level TK, or telekinetic. He can only go so far as moving quarters, but he’s fun and loyal. So when Seth fails to close his loop, a serious infraction, he comes running to Joe for help, and shares what his future self (Frank Brennan) has revealed to him: There’s someone called The Rainmaker who is planning to overthrow all the crime bosses, including Abe, and is closing all the loops, ahead of time. Unfortunately for Seth, when Joe has the chance to either repay years of friendship and forfeit half his silver, or give up Seth, he chooses the latter.
From that point on, Joe’s life goes in one of two directions: In one version of the future, he closes his loop, and retires to Shanghai, where his drug addiction exacerbates to the point where he becomes a hitman to support his habit. Joe (Bruce Willis) then meets the woman who would becomes his wife, gets clean, and lives happily with her…until she is accidentally killed when he is found and sent back to close his loop. In the second version of the future, young Joe hesitates momentarily when he sees his unmasked older self staring back at him, allowing older Joe to use the gold bars strapped to his body to shield himself. He escapes and although younger Joe is determined to find him, he doesn’t do it quickly enough to avoid detection from Abe’s men. He must then find and close his loop or risk a premature death.
The rest of the movie plays out as if both possibilities for Joe’s future came to fruition, are intertwined, and are working simultaneously to inform his every decision. Young Joe is desperate to find his older self, tie up his loop and retire as planned. Older Joe is desperate to find out who The Rainmaker is so that he can save his wife from being a victim to his former life and past mistakes.
Older Joe has a serious advantage in that he is able to “remember” the present actions of his younger self, so when he tells younger Joe that he plans to kill The Rainmaker in 2044, as a child, and avoid loosing his wife in the future, and his younger self doesn’t want to go along with the plan, he is able to escape yet again.
Older Joe knows The Rainmaker’s birthday and the hospital they were born in, so he plans to kill all three of the children born that day. As his younger self rips a corner of his map before his escape, he manages to find one of the children on the hit list, hoping to protect him from his older self, while older Joe tried to track down the other two and mentally prepared himself to do something he’s never done before: take a child’s life.
As younger Joe spends time with Cid (Pierce Gagnon), the child he finds with his torn piece of the map, and his mother, Sara (Emily Blunt), we see him evolve into someone more selfless, more compassionate. Once again, Joe is presented with the chance to step up and be a hero, and not just a man with a gun. He becomes less concerned about saving himself by closing his loop and more concerned with redeeming himself for all the lives he’s taken by saving this small family.
Looper, like many movies dealing with alternate timelines, can be mildly confusing at first watch, but is actually very well-done, leaving almost no plots holes. Combining sci-fi, action thriller, and well-placed supernatural elements with engaging dialogue and character development, the film is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.
A review wouldn’t be complete without special attention given to the acting. Supporting stars like Paul Dano and Piper Perabo are always enjoyable to watch and have received critical acclaim in their own right for various lead roles in the past, as has lead actress, Emily Blunt. Bruce Willis has been typecast as an action hero so often, that it was impossible for him not to give a great performance in this film. But the star here is our lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Known best for playing the charming, mildly awkward nice guy with ease, he absolutely rose to the occasion in this film. Gordon-Levitt not only adapted the role seamlessly, but also Willis’ persona, flawlessly mimicking everything about Willis: his walk, speech pattern, smirk, and various facial expressions. Whether this was a decision agreed upon pre-production so that Gordon-Levitt could become more believable as a mercenary, or a choice made by him personally, he proved himself as a method actor. In so doing, Gordon-Levitt effectively pushed the story’s core plot, that of a man who is at war with himself, in every way imaginable.
Looper is a story about self-awareness, more than anything else, about how the way we view ourselves and value our own lives affects how we treat others, and how those actions have far-reaching consequences.
I give this one 4.75 stars.