Sequels, remakes and franchises have dominated the movie screens this summer, which makes the arrival of the starkly original new film Looper that much more satisfying. From the mind of writer and director Rian Johnson, Looper is an exhilarating science-fiction thriller that combines Johnson’s low-budget, indie roots with big-budget blockbuster visuals.
The film is set in Kansas in the year 2044. As protagonist Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) describes in a series of voiceovers, time travel will be invented 30 years from present day.
Time travel is subsequently outlawed; however, the Mafia begins secretly using it as a way to conveniently “dispose” of enemies. People are sent back in time to present day, and loopers – highly trained assassins that deal exclusively with time travel – take them out.
Simmons has been a looper for several years now. His victims arrive at a predetermined time, and Simmons blows them to bits without a hint of hesitation or remorse. While his position as pays well and allows Simmons to enjoy certain luxuries, it renders him an emotionally vacant man.
His world turns upside down when the victim he is paid to kill turns out to be himself. Bruce Willis plays Simmons’ future persona, and Gordon-Levitt’s heavy makeup enhances their physical similarity.
Time travel is always a tough concept to effectively incorporate into a movie. The multiple timelines, duplication of characters and the vast number of rules that accompany time travel often make a movie incoherent.
The main reason Looper is so successful is that it takes the time to present the potential implications of time travel, which generally gets ignored. When young Simmons discovers new information and creates new memories, his future self also obtains this knowledge. This attention to detail gives the film a higher level of plausibility.
Johnson, who is best known for his indie, neo-noir Brick, uses his experiences with independent projects to give Looper an intimate tone with highly stylized visuals. He does this through character development and inventive cinematography.
From revolving cameras to tracking shots, Johnson uses a vast repertoire of techniques to not only enhance the engaging plot, but also provide the film with propulsive energy.
Looper is the first sci-fi film in recent memory to create a fully realized world. Every detail of this futuristic society is fleshed out, even if it’s not explicitly stated.
Johnson allows the camera to pause on scenery that doesn’t necessarily add to the central narrative but provides integral details about this dystopian world, including a disheveled young boy standing in the street and the city’s decrepit buildings. These elements help the audience extrapolate about the society and ponder the potential social and structural issues it faces.
Gordon-Levitt demonstrates his abilities as an actor as he brings an insurmountable energy and dedication to every role he inhabits. Willis is his usual badass self, going on multiple ultra-violent killing sprees that are wonderfully gory. Emily Blunt – who comes in midway through the film, and has a critical role that can’t be detailed without spoiling certain plot points – brings an added warmth and emotional depth to the film.
Looper is without a doubt one of the best and most original science-fiction films of the last five years. It represents a gorgeous marriage of brainy ideas and mesmerizing execution. After a constant bombardment of retreads and remakes from Hollywood, Looper arrives as a restoration in the idea of quality, original movies.