Through modern ingenuity, ‘Looper’ reinvigorates sci-fi
Movie Review | 4 out of 5 stars
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 28, 2012 08:09
What happens when you meet your future or past self? Theatergoers will find out when “Looper’s” protagonist confronts his future self within the first half of the film in a comical scene that acts as a set-up instead of a climax. This quiet defiance of expectations characterizes the sharp, smart sci-fi thriller as an original addition to a resurging genre.
From the first scene, “Looper” offers grit and realism. The audience is immediately introduced to guns called “blunderbusses” that only shoot at close range and drugs administered through eye drops. In this world, political power is organized around city-states, skinny jeans and hipster jackets are retro and telekinesis is a minor genetic mutation used as an awkward flirting technique. “Looper’s” intensively detailed world gives the film a weight and believability that engulfs the audience even before the plotline becomes evident.
The film presents “loopers” as high-profile hitmen who work for organized criminal gangs from the future. The gangs send their victims back in time to be killed in the cleanest possible fashion, each kill awarding the assassin “looper” a fat paycheck.
The film opens with the titular looper, Joseph Simmons, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, living in Kansas City in the year 2044. Everything goes wrong when a version of Joseph from 2072, played by Bruce Willis, is sent back and runs loose in the world of 2044. A three-way chase ensues between the two Joes and their mob employers.
Writer-director Rian Johsnon previously worked on “Brick” (2007), a neo-noir cult classic, and “The Brothers Bloom” (2009), a con-man story. In “Looper,” he places himself firmly in the realm of existentialist and individualist science fiction, a genre that has been emerging in the past decade of American film. From “Moon” (2009) to “District 9” (2009), these films balance intimate human stories against bleak, dystopian settings.
In an attempt to address themes that stretch deeper than the plot, “Looper” uses time travel to ask questions about identity and morality instead of resorting to the tired trope of alternate timelines. The audience is asked to wonder whether a 55-year-old family man is in any meaningful way the same person as his hedonistic 25-year-old self.
Given their different desires and moral codes, Willis’ and Levitt’s respective Joes clash from the moment they meet. The older Joe tries to get the other to work to his agenda, but the younger isn’t having any of it. Why should he abandon his self-fulfillment for a future he has not yet chosen?
As with the other films in the modern sci-fi canon, “Looper” directly addresses the questions of this particular time through its own cinematic conventions. The film asks whether the audience as individuals can make meaningful choices in a world where information is more often than not incomplete and choices seem predetermined by greater forces. There is enough depth in the film’s questions and answers to fill a full-length novel.
“Looper” trips over its own cleverness and uniqueness, though. By including a few large-scale chase sequences, a forced yet brief romantic subplot and an overbearing shoot-out in the third act, the film almost ruins the tension. Fortunately, the film’s powerful and explosive ending leaves any minor missteps forgotten.
Johnson deserves further recognition for making a film as bold as this out of an original story. In a time when most major box-office films screen with the expectation of a sequel, “Looper” adds an exciting element of the unknown back into the theater.