If you had to do it all over again, could you still kill your future self in order to live the good life now?
The year is 2044. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be… in thirty years. It will also be immediately outlawed, but criminal organizations will use it to send targets back into the past for quiet assassinations, and ‘loopers’ are the trigger men. Loopers are paid in bars of silver for each hit and live the good life, but a day will come when the target is yourself; this is called ‘closing your loop.’ It comes with a golden payday (gold bars instead of silver) and thirty years to enjoy it before the inevitable happens. When the time comes for Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to close his own loop, his future self (Bruce Willis) takes things in a decidedly different direction.
Time travel stories are tricky. Die-hard fans (pun intended) can pick apart the most intricate setup, but it isn’t often when something comes along that re-establishes the genre in a new and fresh way. Looper pulls this off with an incredible cast of performers that sells the concept completely. The film utilizes other sci-fi concepts (telekinesis, for example), but the brief glimpse of this near future is so rife with rich detail that suspending disbelief and drawing viewers quickly into the story is effortless. In spite of a bleak world view with no heroes to root for, hope appears and choices are made, and this is where Looper shines and excels.
Fantasy physics are both the attraction and failure of most time travel flicks. In Looper, people who are sent back into the past have all the mileage and memories of their future, but the moment something changes with their present self, the effect instantly affects the future self; the concept is as frightening to consider as it is to watch. This is nearly identical to the same effect used in Frequency, including a clouding of memories when things change, with the notable exception that the affected characters exist at the same point in time. This is a linear timeline concept, like ripples in a stream rather than a full-on butterfly effect from affecting consequences; if you understood that, you’re probably going to enjoy Looper.
Between films like Surrogates and The Fifth Element, Bruce Willis always seems at home in the future. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is no stranger to complex plots, having spent time with Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. Making the two actors look like one another to play different versions of the same character took more time for Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the make-up chair, but the effect is eerie and effective. Jeff Daniels’ turn as the mob boss in charge of the loopers is appropriately frightening with his father-figure demeanor and killer instinct, while Emily Blunt completely sells her part as a country girl almost swallowed whole by the big city.
From people living in the streets of a failed economy to designer drugs applied to the eyes, Looper paints a bleak picture of both the future and one man’s future while setting up each for better possibilities. At first glance, it’s hard to reconcile that none of the characters seem redeemable until things get real, but once we do find out that all isn’t hopeless, the path becomes clearer; this makes the film’s payoff worth the wait and almost jawdroppingly perfect. As much as I love Back to Future in spite of all its story and temporal flaws, it’s always welcome to see time travel with an eye for detail that’s written well. And seriously, how cool is it to have an actual blunderbus for an assassin’s weapon?
(a four skull recommendation out of four)