Looper, 2012, USA/China
I doubt I’ve seen a more thought-provoking film this year. Looper is an intense science fiction thriller that often moves beyond mere thrills into the realm of horror.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper – a hired gun of the mob sent back in time to murder mob targets that are sent back in time. Eventually their contracts “expire” and their older version of themselves are sent back to them. After killing their older selves, they’re given gold bars and 30 years to live in the manner of their choosing.
As a looper, Joe is living a carefree lifestyle featuring a plethora of drugs and women. When Old Joe (Bruce Willis) is sent back to Joe, he fails to kill him, and must chase after him and correct his mistake. Old Joe has a mission of his own: he wants to track down and kill the Rainmaker – a mysterious figure who has been closing looper contracts.
Time travel is always a tricky subject, especially on film. Each story has its own “lore”, and the rules within each story are generally complicated. Looper does a fairly good job explaining the rules, but keeping the timelines straight was immensely complicated at times. I also caught some potential inconsistencies within the lore of the film. The rules themselves aren’t necessarily straightforward, which lends itself well to film discussion.
Screenwriter/director Rian Johnson managed to do something genuinely brilliant with many scenes in Looper: he made them truly horrifying without actually showing blood and gore on-screen. One sequence involving Joe’s best friend and fellow looper, Seth (Paul Dano) is frightening and disturbing solely because it was not shown. I found the things my mind conjured up more disturbing than anything that could be shown on screen. I couldn’t stop thinking about the scene and it will stay with me for a long time. It takes a gifted director to use the audience’s imagination as opposed to showing every little thing on film.
Johnson does this again later in the film with Sara (Emily Blunt), the woman Joe encounters while he’s on the run. The scene, which remains strictly PG was very sensual, but it uses subtle implication as opposed to full-on sex. It was well-done.
Willis and Gordon-Levitt are great as the two leads in the film. In real life they don’t look much alike at all, but the make-up they used on Gordon-Levitt’s face really made him look like a younger version of Willis. Funnily enough, I didn’t see the similarities between them in the film trailer, but once I watched the film, I could see that they looked alike. That being said, Gordon-Levitt’s make-up was distracting at times.
It was fun to see how each actor handled playing a different version of the same person. Both characters were inherently very selfish, but for different reasons. Young Joe’s selfishness was ingrained in youth and a desire to live the life he felt he’d earned, but Old Joe’s selfishness was aimed at preserving the life that he’d built. It was fascinating to watch the two characters, and I loved their interactions. The two men loathe one another: Old Joe is a reminder of mortality to Young Joe, and Young Joe is the poster-child of poor choices and youthful folly to Old Joe.
Looper is one of the best of the year thus far. I am a huge science fiction fan, and this is one of the best science fiction films in a long time. I highly recommend it!