Rian Johnson’s Looper is the kind of sci-fi movie that does its best to let you comfortably forget that it’s a sci-fi film as you’re watching and (hopefully) enjoying it. It often seems that directors reach a fork in the road with sci-fi where one path dictates going dark, dank, and gritty, while underlining the “real,” and the other path has them flying their outrageous spandexy and glittery chrome life-in-the-future freak flag. Fortunately, Johnson chooses the former path.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a “looper,” a hit man whose killings work according to a strictly choreographed system: each target is delivered via time travel from the future to a pre-ordained spot to be killed with a blunderbuss (a limited but effective blaster that has to be used at close range). And sometimes that target turns out to be the future self of the guy holding the blunderbuss. And if you have to shoot yourself, you get a bunch of gold bars as payment (as opposed to a gold watch) instead of the usual silver bars paid for these killings.
So, similar to the Terminator movies, people in the future (the mob, in this case) are trying to fix problems in their own time by sending someone (or in this case a lot of someones) into the past. But we can forgive the logical flaw in sending bad men to the past where they can run free and cause havoc with the future, because they have ways of dealing with the future folk who escape—doing bad, bad things to their present version’s body that then immediately affect the future version.
Naturally, Joe’s future self is sent back to him, when an ominous figure from the future known as “the Rainmaker” begins cleaning house of all the loopers. That reunion becomes even more unfortunate for present-day Joe when his older, future self (played by Bruce Willis) manages to escape his fate and get away. It’s somewhat disorienting to see Gordon-Levitt’s face Willis-ized under some prosthetics—which frankly aren’t all that necessary to link the two beyond performance. But like most of the potentially distracting quibbles that could pop up during a time-travel film, these concerns dissipate pretty quickly as the film zips along.
So, to recap: with the present-day manager of this mob network (Jeff Daniels, in a turn that combines cool, world-weary, and lethal) at their heel, Gordon-Levitt and Willis are on the lam; Gordon-Levitt is trying to catch his older counterpart Willis; and Willis is trying to track down the kid who will grow up to become the Rainmaker so he can kill him and change his fate.
All of this is complicated further by the fact that the kid, watched over in a deserted Kansas farmhouse by his pretty, no-frills mom (Emily Blunt), has some developing telekinetic abilities that may explain how the Rainmaker was able to take over the future’s underworld all by himself.
Looper is both measured in its scale and ambitious in the intelligence of its approach. Johnson is a director that is clearly brimming with ideas and this film also follows suit with Johnson’s prior efforts (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) in that its big ideas are laced with mordant wit throughout. Therefore, while the film won’t inspire much pondering 15 minutes out of the theater, the two hours spent in your theater seat will fly by quite entertainingly.