Rian Johnson’s Looper breathes — no, pumps — exhilarating new life into the time-travel genre. It crackles, it thrills, and it reinvigorates as a cerebral sci-fi thriller that wants to be — dare I say — a distant cousin of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which, as you may recall, also starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (The dude knows how to pick ‘em.)
Here JGL plays Joe, the titular member of a group of hitmen who get paid handsomely to take out targets sent to them from 30 years in the future, a time when time travel is outlawed and used by the mob to dispose their victims (you can’t be guilty of killing someone who never existed). Once Joe learns that his employers have “closed his loop” by sending his older self back in time, he finds himself trapped in a deadly race against time that takes him from the grimy, noirish streets of a 2044 version of Kansas City (thankfully we’re not treated to the cliched dystopias of New York and L.A.) to the bristling cornfields run by a mysterious farm girl (a fierce, shotgun-toting Emily Blunt).
If Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems like he’s doing a subtle yet spot-on impression of Bruce Willis, that’s because the action veteran plays Older Joe (prosthetic facial features also help with the resemblance). Gordon-Levitt, who’s been quoted as having watched a lot of Willis’s films in order to study his mannerisms, clearly makes an effort to avoid turning his performance into a cheesy impersonation. He manages nail down every squinty glare, every gravelly utterance, and every nuance to nail down the role itself.
Rian Johnson, here on double duty as the film’s writer and director, proves himself as an exciting action visionary. There are definitely some stylistic approaches resembling those found in 2005‘s Brick, the neo-noir detective tale that put him on the Hollywood map and solidified Gordon-Levitt as a reliable young lead. Here, Johnson stages the action at a bristling pace with plenty of room to breathe and settle down in this crazy world. It’s hardboiled without being too laborious. There’s no need to go into a heady discussion on the mechanics of time travel here; it just exists, and the film asks the audience to accept it as a fact of future life. What matters above all else is character and story. And there’s plenty of both.
Paul Dano appears in the first act of the film as a colleague of Joe’s who desperately attempts to elude a group of uniformed agents called Gat Men (think: The Matrix‘s Agent Smith with semi-automatics…and more soul). Noah Segan plays Kid Blue, a young and eager-to-please right-hand man to Head Gat Man, Abe (a growly Jeff Daniels). But the real surprise of Looper is Emily Blunt as Sara, the aforementioned farm owner who figures into a plot that has been purposely concealed in all of the trailers and promos out there. Playing the mother of a troubled 6-year-old (Pierce Gagnon, a revelation), Blunt exhibits an earthy gruffness and vulnerability we’ve never before seen in her. Without giving away too much story, the film takes on an eerie tone once Joe arrives at that farmhouse in the third act; the creepy shit hits the fan.
Plot twists and awesomely staged action aside, Looper represents the exciting, continued arrival of next-gen sci-fi action, and I hope Rian Johnson jumps on board other projects that’ll have moviegoers scrambling for more popcorn.
- Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)