A word of warning: Don’t watch Looper expecting it to be just silly action-adventure Sci-Fi fun to watch with your chums and help unwind from the daily stress. I made that mistake, even though I had made it before with Rian Johnson’s previous film, Brick (also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and it was like running face-first into a glass door you thought was open.
It really was a shock. This movie is darker than dark, bleaker than bleak, noir-er than noir.
So the year is 2044 and the U.S. is a third-world country. In 30 years (2074), time-travel will be invented, but will then be promptly outlawed, because apparently it’s too fun for human use. You know, just like crack cocaine.
The Mafiosi of the future, however, still use it to throw people into the past so they can be killed and then dumped there, where tracking and forensic technologies aren’t as evolved and they can really disappear. To do that, they hire people to kill the target as soon as he arrives in the past. These hitmen are known as “Loopers”. They’re very well paid, they live the high life, but that’s only because in thirty years they will die.
The thing is: The future mafia doesn’t want to take any chances on the government uncovering their time-travel racket, so they make a point of getting rid of all the evidence as soon as the going-back machine is invented, including the Loopers.
On top of all that, the Looper assigned to kill his future self is normally himself. Presumably just to rub in his face how horrible he is at long-term planning. That act is called “closing the loop”. Hence their profession’s name.
Why don’t the future gangsters simply kill the people in their own time and send just the bodies to the past? I don’t know, and I don’t care. This movie is too awesome for plot holes.
The story kicks in when one of those Loopers, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), fails to “close his loop.” That is to say, when he finds out the person he is supposed to kill is his future self (Bruce Willis), he hesitates, letting him escape.
On the lam from his immediate boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels, who also worked with Gordon-Levitt in the sweet-ass The Lookout), Joe starts hunting down Future Joe to off him for good this time so he won’t suffer the consequences of his mistake. Justifiably: We see what these consequences are right in the beginning of the film and they’re … Er … Let’s put it this way: They’re just as pretty as a PETA informative pamphlet about little cute gerbils who are ground alive in Indonesia or whatever.
Looper plays more like a tragedy than anything else. You watch those hardened killers laying waste to human life with the same casual indifference they would display while registering for a LinkedIn account; collecting their pay to hit the clubs for untold amounts of booze, drugs, sex and drugs; and driving their slick rides, but at the same time there’s the baleful knowledge in the back of your head (and theirs) that their lives have an expiration date set in stone and they can’t do a thing about it. They are desperately trying to live big while they can, to a point where their partying and binging becomes aggressively self-destructive.
The movie really does follow in the footsteps of the classics of hard-boiled film noir, and not just stylistically. That isn’t a big surprise when you know Rian Johnson, the director, was inspired to make “Brick” by the works of Dashiell Hammet. Just like in Red Harvest, Dashiell’s greatest book, perhaps, there’s an ominous density that covers every aspect of looper. Like a lead-gray haze that you can’t see but know is there. And the story, like all good hard-boiled film noirs, is incredibly morally complex. Really, I’m not just saying that, I’m even going to italicize it for emphasis: morally complex.
If that’s not emphatic enough, imagine it being said with an Italian accent to complete the picture.
Some of Joe’s, and especially Future Joe’s decisions are a hard pill to swallow. I think they are still wedged in my throat. The characters are all fleshed out enough that you may not approve of their behavior but you can definitely see where they’re coming from, and that makes it that much worse.
Apart from that, the dialogue is spot-on and the camera work is … Uhm .. Dead-on. Rian Johnson, unlike more MTV-inspired directors of our time, is not a guy afraid to let the shots linger on their subjects. There’s a touch of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men in that some of the action bits play more like you’re a witness at the scene rather than a spectator in the movie theater. He won’t reach across the table to slice up this movie in little cubes for you like he’s your mom. He won’t even give you a knife. You’re going to have to eat that beef with two forks, champ.
And he gets acting out of his actors that you wouldn’t think possible. It’s hard to picture Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Bruce Willis when he grows up, but by the end you’ll be almost convinced there is at least a conceivable similarity. Not only that, but, as much as the protagonist acts like a total bad-ass, he’s still vulnerable and immature, without looking less dangerous.
Playing with time in Looper is a depressing affair. You’re setting yourself up for a hot date with death in exchange for a couple bucks. Well, more than a couple, but still, it’s like you’re betraying yourself.