So, what exactly is ‘Looper’ about? Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an assassin known as a looper who works for the mob in the year 2074 – a time where a certain portion of the population is gifted with telekinetic abilities. He waits in prearranged spot which resembles an open field. Here, he shoots bound and gagged victims who arrive through time travel thirty years into the future – a time where it is more difficult to dispose of murdered bodies. Here’s the problem – his target is now himself (Bruce Willis plays Old Joe). To avoid getting into spoilers, I’ll end my plot description here.
When it was announced that ‘Looper’ would be the opener for the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, I sort of rolled my eyes. “Looper?! That’s not a TIFF film!” Now that I’ve seen it, I can say that ‘Looper’ is very much is a TIFF film. On the surface, it appears to be a two hour chase flick with a time travel conceit. But, that isn’t what this movie about is about. The mechanics of the time travel concept is introduced early on, and then pushed into the background in favor of sinking into this milieu encompassed by characters that face some very difficult questions. Director Rian Johnson’s primary focus is on the narrative. The action set pieces and special effects are simply window dressing. ‘Looper’ is an ambitious picture, successfully combining elements involving dystopian futuristic sci-fi, western shootouts, and even children with serious anger management and parental issues. Think of it as a strange (but effective) hybrid of ‘The Terminator’, ‘Blade Runner’, ‘The Shining’, and ‘Serenity’ (yes, by definition “hybrid” is a mix of two things, but if a movie like ‘Looper’ can make up its own rules, so can I).
‘Looper’ is a violent film to be sure, and goes in directions you would not expect. This is true in particular for some of the decisions made by the Bruce Willis character which will straight up shock and upset many of you. Yes, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis are playing the same characters – but the life experience contained within this thirty year gap has placed them at cross-purposes. My favorite scene in ‘Looper’ involves these two actors sitting across from each other in a diner, spelling out their intentions over a plate of steak and eggs. There is some dark comedy in this tension-filled scene that reminded me of the coffee scene between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’. Joseph Gordon Levitt is one of the better actors working today and he proves his versatility by choosing to play this character – it’s the most “flawed” a character he has ever played, but there is some humanity to this Young Joe. And there’s a vulnerability to Old Joe that allows Bruce Willis to showcase his acting abilities and remind us that he isn’t just an action star. Once the Emily Blunt character is introduced, the film slows down, and that’s just fine because we really get to know these characters and care about the critical decisions they have to make.
Those expecting wall-to-wall noise (a huge fault of the theatrical trailer) may be disappointed with what ‘Looper’ has to offer. As with every time travel film in existence, it may not stand up to the scrutiny of hindsight. But, with a great premise, sharply drawn characters, first-rate performance, and an intelligent script that meanders in the best possible way, ‘Looper’ is a gentle reminder that Hollywood isn’t completely devoid of original filmmaking.
– Jerry Nadarajah