Movie Review: 'Looper' -- 3.5 stars
Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
There are grand philosophical ideas at the heart of "Looper," writer-director Rian Johnson's impressive new sci-fi flick. Here is a film to be analyzed and debated, with a complicated parallel structure and meaningful insights into the notion of a life fully lived.
But let's be honest here: You're not interested in a Bruce Willis genre movie for the philosophy. And when it comes to the essential goods, "Looper" delivers. Made for an extraordinarily slim $35 million, Johnson's film offers a full immersion in a strife-ridden futuristic world and the sort of smartly crafted action that resonates.
Set in 2042, the movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a specialized assassin called a "looper." He's contracted to carry out mob hits from 30 years in the future, when time travel has been invented and targets are zapped back in time for disposal.
A 2072 crime boss starts "closing the loops," though, sending back the future versions of Joe's colleagues. The penalty for not killing your older self is a particularly gruesome immediate death, so when Joe finds himself faced with Old Joe (Willis), he doesn't hesitate. But Old Joe has other plans in store, and so begins a chase flick rife with unique complications.
"Looper" rejects the assembly-line sameness that characterizes so many big Hollywood movies these days. In his portrait of the future, Johnson ("Brick") playfully balances realistic projections with leaps of imagination. Captured in dynamic wide shots, it's at once slick and bleak; a world of time travel and telekinesis, but also increased homelessness and lawlessness, as if the one-percent had seized every last bit of hope from the 99-percent.
The story set within that world moves at great speed, driven forward by the compelling conceit. Complete with prosthetic nose, Gordon-Levitt does a sharp Willis impersonation and the movie has great fun with the ramifications of their face off. At the same time, Johnson makes room for interesting secondary characters, among them a farmer named Sara (Emily Blunt), her young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) and Joe's boss Abe (Jeff Daniels).
Above all, the movie stands out for its thoughtfulness. From the carefully choreographed action scenes, which opt for old-fashioned clarity instead of confused cuts, to the themes of revenge and redemption, "Looper" is the work of a visionary, a man with something to say and the tools to say it. Don't miss it.