Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Piper Perabo
In the latter half of the 21st Century, time travel is invented but is instantly made illegal. The only practitioners are criminal syndicates who send their victims back through time to be assassinated, where no record of them exists. These murders are carried out by ‘loopers’, hired killers who wait at an appointed place and time, somewhere remote, for their victim to appear. One shot does the trick. Every now and then a looper’s older version is sent back to be terminated—known as “closing a loop”—at which point the young looper is allowed to retire until that fateful day in the future.
Confused? You won’t be once the plot kicks into gear. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a ruthless looper who hesitates when his turn comes to close his own loop by killing his older self (Bruce Willis). A clever game of cat and mouse ensues, with both Joes being hunted by the looper organisation run by Jeff Daniels (on top form). But that’s just the set-up for what becomes a fascinating story chock-full of what-ifs and moral quandries. The action scenes are brilliant, there’s a welcome irreverent streak running through much of the film, and the actors are all very good, especially Emily Blunt playing against type as a foul-mouthed, hobo-phobic mother with a secret.
In my opinion Bruce Willis is well-suited to science fiction. Effortlessly charismatic, he’s also the most down-to-earth of the big action heroes of recent decades, and right away gives these future scenarios a jaded, human quality. Twelve Monkeys, The Fifth Element, Surrogates, and now Looper, writer-director Rian Johnson’s ingenious time travel thriller: each looks to Willis to provide the wounded heart of the story. The same can also be said of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, arguably his two best roles, in which he managed to ground supernatural goings-on with very real, sensitive portrayals.
That’s perhaps the key to Looper’s success. Johnson downplays the futuristic bells and whistles and turns up the human interest. Flying vehicles and hi-tech gizmos are almost throwaway elements in the background, while characters’ flaws and behavioural quirks are always revelant. In short, it’s the kind of science fiction we need more of: smart, exciting, plausible, and populated by real people. How many time travel movies can you say that about?