Looper is the latest film from Rian Johnson, the creative and talented young director who brought us Brick and The Brothers Bloom. Looper is a genre-bending film that has the trappings of a science fiction film but also has elements of noir and romance also.
In a near-future universe, ‘loopers’ are the name given to hired goons who are recruited by the mob of the distant future to dispose of the bodies of unlucky victims who are sent back in time for immediate execution. It’s explained that in far future, thanks to body tagging technology, it is very difficult to hide a person’s remains without resorting to sending them back in time. None of the loopers ever really question this any further because, well, most of the loopers are pretty stupid. The mob mostly look to hire a type – poor, desperate and unthinking. They are all given blunderbusses to execute their targets because it’s impossible to miss with them from close and you can’t do any damage with them from a distance.
Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Joe, one such looper, who comes from an impoverished background but has fire in his belly. His resistance when caught stealing from a money laundering store owned by the mob is what impresses the crime lord Abe and gives him the idea to hire Joe. Joe is smarter than the average looper but he is also a drug addict. At least he has aspirations of leaving the business and moving to France to live a new life.
Loopers are apparently hired on a limited time basis before they are eventually asked to kill their future selves. They do this unquestioningly because, well, they have no choice and happily take the money for the short term benefit. When Joe is presented with his future self to execute, played by Bruce Willis, he stalls and Old Joe escapes. Game on.
From here, the movie becomes an interesting Rube Goldberg puzzle as Old Joe goes on a mission to kill a young child who will grow up to become a powerful mob boss named The Rainmaker, responsible for the death of Old Joe’s lover. Joe wants to stop Old Joe to fulfill his contractual obligations to Abe but then things get even more complicated when he falls in love with a woman Sara, who is the mother of the future crime lord. The more he falls in love, the further Old Joe’s lover fades from his memory. They are after all, one and the same person, their fates intertwined. And that gets complicated when they have polar opposite intentions.
I enjoyed the journey that Looper took me on. Initially, it has quite a noirish feel to the proceedings but Sara, Joe’s love interest, is no femme fatale in the classic sense. The relationship that develops between Joe and Sara reminded me of the narrative path that Stephen King’s time travelling novel 11/22/63 takes. That story is also about a man driven by a specific mission who gets his plans derailed for the love of a good woman. I think its for the best that the film went down this path. Without doing so, it would sit uncomfortably in the shadow of the perennial sci-fi noir classic Blade Runner.
Once the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, its possible you might guess the final destination that Looper ends up at. After all, it is a story about fate and self-determination and if the hero is going to make good on finding his agency, there is only one likely outcome. But the journey we take to get that point is a well crafted and enjoyable one. Joseph Gordon Levitt is an ever reliable leading man and he has good chemistry with both Emily Blunt and her rather unique son Cid. Personally I would have liked to have seen more interaction between Joe and Old Joe. They only really share one quiet conversation in a cafe before the action kicks in and that is a shame. Otherwise this is a taut, well made sci-fi film that is a great companion piece to last year’s Source Code.