In the year 2044, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a contract killer – or “Looper” – for a mysterious figure known as the Rainmaker, who exists in a future in which time travel has been invented. Joe’s job is to kill those sent back from the future and dispose of their bodies, ultimately destroying any evidence of their existence. However, when he’s ordered by his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) to kill his future self (Bruce Willis) and “close his loop”, he chokes, giving his older version the chance to escape and forcing Joe to hunt himself down.
From here, the narrative erupts in a blaze of cleverly implemented twists and turns, with writer-director Rian Johnson keeping exposition to a minimum and allowing the audience to succumb to the exhilaration and lap up every last minute. As the film nears its midpoint, and Joe takes refuge on an isolated farm belonging to single mother Sara (Emily Blunt, faultless) and her curiously cultivated son (Pierce Gagnon, excellent), the tone and vibe shift gears dramatically, but in a way no less thrilling and completely in keeping with Johnson’s unique vision.
While the central thread plays out, we’re treated to a range of cutbacks and flash-forwards that not only allow us an opportunity to understand more about Joe’s drug-controlled lifestyle and passionate, aspiring character, but also provides an insight into his older version: his experiences, motives and exactly how he ended up in front of young Joe’s blunderbuss – a specially modified weapon that’s incredibly deadly at close-range. It’s through these cutbacks that Johnson’s visual style flourishes, and we’re presented with a version of reality that’s scarily realistic, despite the obvious technological advancements.
All of this adds up to a film that can, at times, be overly ambitious. The ideas and scope Looper harbours is endless, so it’s testament to Johnson’s skill as both a writer and director that he manages to keep proceedings quick-paced and infused with a tremendous amount of dark humour and witty back-and-forth dialogue that keeps everything fresh and explicit in its authenticity. It’s also commendable in the way he’s able to layer a film that is, on its surface, an ambitious sci-fi thriller. But dig a little deeper and a whole new level emerges, as it reveals itself to be a well-honed, character driven and moralistic drama.
To truly work though, the acting must fall in line with the sober and cold ambience Johnson coats Looper in, alongside a feeling that emanates from the screenplay that everyone lives for themselves and the ones they love, no matter their circumstances. With that in mind, it’s a relief that Gordon-Levitt fits almost effortlessly into his role as Joe, and the similarities he shares with his older version (aided by extensive prosthetics and brilliantly played by Willis) enhance the overall believability of the story. In turn, their chemistry is remarkable, and is well exploited by Johnson in several noteworthy scenes.
Looper is major work from a director undeterred in his desire to tell stories that, while challenging in scope and suggestive in nature, are consistently unique, bold and inspiring. What Johnson has created should be celebrated not only for its ability to entertain and engage, but also for its ability to ask some deeply moralistic questions in a way that’s neither biased nor overwhelming. Coupled with the fact it’s powered by a host of strong-willed performances, including supporting players like Daniels and a brilliant Paul Dano, Looper is a triumph in the foremost sense of the word.