In the distant future, time travel has been invented and appropriated by criminal organisations who use it to dispose of victims by spending them to specialised hitmen – known as loopers – 30 years in the past. In the near future, Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is hoping to save his lucrative earnings as a looper in order to move away and start a new life, but his plan is foiled when the next victim that materialises in front of him turns out to be his older self (Willis). When Young Joe hesitates and Older Joe escapes, both versions go on the run in order to protect their respective timelines…
Even before Looper was released, there was a general feeling that it was going to be great – and not just because we asked our future selves. The complex, mind-bending brainchild of writer-director Rian Johnson, it boasts a head-scratchingly twisty time-travel premise that is both thematically reminiscent of a few genre classics (most notably, Twelve Monkeys and The Terminator) and refreshingly, admirably original in its own right. While lesser filmmakers might have wasted said premise as an excuse for soulless CGI block-busting, Johnson uses it to explore a variety of complex moral dilemmas (see the hits Older Joe has to perform in order to save the woman he loves) and timeless philosophical quandaries (nature vs. nurture, anyone?). Intelligent, thrilling and consistently surprising, it isn’t just the best sci-fi movie of the year, it’s one of the best movies of the year, full-stop.
Given that there’s far more to the film than the plot summary suggests, any attempt to describe the story in depth would require a detailed flow chart and a couple of linear diagrams. That being true, it’s all perfectly followable if you’re paying attention right from the start, although you may well feel the need to jump online afterwards and peruse a few diagram-assisted explanations for the sake of absolute clarity when it comes to one or two key plot wrinkles. The very definition of thinking man’s science fiction, Johnson’s third feature isn’t just good guys vs. bad guys, it’s also good guy vs. good guy. Both of whom happen to be the same good guy. Confused? Quick, somebody get the straws.
Understandably, many of us were vocally sceptical about the duel casting of said good guy, given how unlikely it seems that Joseph Gordon-Levitt will one day morph into Bruce Willis. But yet Gordon-Levitt nails Bruce’s mannerisms in surprisingly convincing fashion, and there are a few beautifully subtle touches littered throughout (see Young Joe checking out his hairline), while Willis adds another memorable genre movie to his CV. Emily Blunt, meanwhile, also makes a major impact in the film’s second half as the story moves to an isolated farm, while the likes of Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels and Garret Dillahunt (who also hunted and killed refugees from the future in The Sarah Connor Chronicles) lend superior support.
Intelligent, thrilling and consistently surprising, Looper isn’t just the best genre movie of the year, it’s one of the best movies of the year, full-stop.