Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt
Summary: The year is 2042, and the United States economy has collapsed, and the invention of time travel is 30 years away. Joe (Gordon-Levitt), 25, works for a Mafia-like organization unofficially in control of Kansas City, run by a charismatic man known as Abe as a Looper, a specialized assassin who kills targets sent back from the future. When Joe’s new target ends up being his future self (Willis), it sends him on a convoluted cat-and-mouse chase which tangles his past and future into the lives of a single mother (Blunt) and her young son.
Review: “Do something new,” crime boss and time-traveler Abe complains, with a roll of his eyes.
Now, while he is talking about Joe’s choice in neckwear, the director, Rian Johnson, is referring to something very different: modern Hollywood. Because, while adaptations of preexisting sources have always have always been a staple in film, never before has originality seemed so endangered—something which gives Looper a decided edge. By steering away from typical issues of time-travel with the premise of an assassin whose target is his future self, Johnson examines psychological and philosophical issues far outside the sci-fi standard, such as fate, free will, friendship, and morality.
The world of Looper manages to be both familiar and unsettling, with futuristic elements (time travel, flying motorbikes, etc.) scattered amongst an aged, weary landscape reminiscent of what one would would see on the evening news, dialed up to eleven. The streets are riddled with holes, lined with overflowing garbage bins. The sidewalks and alleyways are overflowing with the homeless, living out of beat-up cars and make-shift tarp abodes. Everything is dinged and dirty, crying out for a good wash. It’s not post-apocalyptic, but Johnson’s vision of the future is hardly worth looking forward to.
Despite the depth and intricacies of the world he creates, Johnson avoids falling in the trap all too many promising sci-fi films succumb to and keeps the setting in the background, where it belongs, instead of weighing down the story with unnecessary explanations. At the same time, Looper still provides enough of a basis to keep from becoming frustratingly ambiguous–something the sci-fi movies also susceptible to (see: The Road). The film is not, however, flawless by any means.
The fact that Looper is Johnson’s first foray into the genre proves a double-edged sword. His fresh perspective is the film’s greatest strength, but his lack of experience in the genre is also responsible for its greatest weakness—a last-minute plot twist which pushes Looper into the unsettling grey zone between sci-fi and fantasy. Although this flaw does not destroy the merit of the film, it turns what could have been a fantastic, cathartic conclusion into a ending that is merely “good”.
Nonetheless, with superb performances by both Willis and Gordon-Levitt and a strong, unique premise, Looper has certainly secured a spot on the Modern Sci-Fi wall of fame as the best original release since 2010’s Inception.
Oscar Buzz: If a guy won Best Makeup and Hairstyling last year for making Meryl Streep look like Margaret Thatcher, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the team responsible for making Joseph Gordon-Levitt a believable young Bruce Willis stand a good chance. That said, the competition this year will be pretty stiff with Cloud Atlas (caucasian Halle Berry? Tribal leader Hugh Grant? What?) and bio-pic Lincoln also in the running. [Note: Lincoln and Cloud Atlas will both be reviewed in the ACRONYM at a later date.]