Dir. by Rian Johnson - 1 hr. 58 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
"Looper" is tough to dissect, or to describe. The basic plot is given in the trailer: in the future, time-travel has been invented and quickly outlawed. It's used only by the criminal element to carry out murders, which have become much more difficult to carry out. Also present in the trailer is the main character coming face-to-face with an aged version of himself. I suppose that's the hook as much as the science-fiction elements are: if you could go back, what would you try to correct?
Let me fill in a couple of blank spots. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a junkie assassin, which seems to be a fairly common occupation. I'll leave the mechanics of what and how he does to the film, but it's fairly fool-proof and fairly lucrative. Having said that, Joe manages to mess up, and comes face to face with Old Joe (Bruce Willis). When Joe fails to kill the older version of himself, he's forced to go on the lam, as is Old Joe. There's a lot (and I mean a lot) more to the film than this, but that's the quickie, no-spoiler version.
Since getting into the plot would require spoiling a lot of things, I'll talk about the tone and execution of the film instead. First off, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a long way as an actor. Looking back at his credits, it looks like I haven't seen anything he's done since "10 Things I Hate About You," which is an oversight on my part. But he manages to play his character in a way where the drug use is kind of a given, and not a gimmick. I appreciate a good sloppy, inebriated character as much as anyone, but the work here is more subtle, and appropriate to the story. Secondly, it's a bit of a challenge to try to stare down Bruce Willis on-screen, but the centerpiece scene of the film takes place in a diner, where the two Joes have a tense conversation. Gordon-Levitt holds up, otherwise the scene wouldn't matter.
The difference between a piece of fiction that has only one good idea and one that has many good ideas is that some of the great ideas aren't ever even addressed by the characters within. In this way, "Looper" presents a fully-realized vision of the future. One example comes with the cars shown. There are nice cars, but everyone else drives current-era cars that have been modified to run on solar energy. These cars are beaten up, rusted out, are covered in solar panels that are jerry-rigged to somehow deposit energy into the gas-tanks. These are aesthetically ugly, clearly present out of necessity, and yet are never mentioned or even acknowledged by any of the characters. This is just what cars look like at that point. It's a fairly interesting detail to this story that goes untold. Other details that are a little more important to what's happening are illustrated through action: there are no lazy exposition scenes that side-step actually having to show consequences of actions (or ideas). Because of this, the film is both mostly low-key and densely packed with information.
That density of information and ideas left me with a lot to chew on. When the film ended, the entire audience sat quietly for a few moments, processing everything that we'd just seen. That's a fairly big compliment - the ending comes as a surprise (not a M. Night Shyamalan twist, but a genuine surprise), and there are implications to it. I'm still unpacking everything from "Looper" a couple of days later, and I'm just as impressed as I was when it ended.
4.5 / 5 - Theatre