Before Knives Out and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson created a fantastic gem called Looper. Starring Joseph Gordon Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, The Trial of the Chicago 7), Bruce Willis (Die Hard, Moonrise Kingdom), and Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place, Jungle Cruise), the film centers around the future where time travel exists. Joe, a hitman known as a looper, kills people when the mob wants it done. One day, his bosses decide to “close the loop” and sends Joe’s future back in time to be killed. A slight hesitation prompts the older Joe to escape and find the man responsible for his possible execution. Both Loopers play a dangerous game or cat-and-mouse that will surely leave one man dead.
The Rian Johnson feature came out on September 28, 2012, and while Looper would ultimately make back its $30 million production budget the sci-fi/action film barely made $70 million domestically. Looper is one of those great films that slipped by the mainstream media, like Fight Club, Children of Men, Mulholland Drive, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. While some of those films would go to be cult favorites, Looper isn’t in many conversations when it comes to the “best of” films in the 2010s.
To be fair, it was kind of hard for a film like this to stand out in 2012. While the movie didn’t have much competition when it was released, films such as Argo (2013 Best Picture Winner), Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, and Zero Dark Thirty had much impact due to the political natures of each film. So what makes the Rian Johnson vehicle such a great movie?
Like the best sci-fi films, Looper is actually a deep and thought-provoking piece that provides some cool visuals. The movie could’ve easily slipped into a violent cat-and-mouse game between Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt. It doesn’t, and Johnson doesn’t spend time trying to explain the time travel aspect as well. The filmmaker trusts that his audience will understand the story and Looper is all the better for it. Not surprisingly, Joseph Gordon Levitt is great as young Joe. The veteran actor isn’t portrayed as a hardcore badass. Joe’s world is turned upside down when he realizes that the mob wants him dead.
Levitt embodies the emotions necessary in his conflict against his older self. He understands what the right thing to do is; however, it’s not easy to simply assassinate yourself and Levitt’s mix of emotions can be felt throughout the film. Opposite of Levitt is Bruce Willis, who perfectly plays the hard-ass older Joe. Don’t worry, this isn’t the Bruce Willis of today, who’s crowding the direct-to-DVD market with bad action films. Willis’s purpose isn’t just to run and shoot, with the veteran looking to kill the men responsible for his death. While Willis isn’t handed the emotional weight that Levitt has, he’s still a strong presence within the film. Plus, Johnson does an excellent of penning the point-of-view of the older Joe.
Emily Blunt‘s role isn’t as layered as both Levitt and Willis, but the actress still brings her A-game despite her limited screen time. Some of the highlights of Looper are the quieter moments that allow audiences to understand Joe (both young and old), Sara, and The Rainmaker. Looper isn’t as twisty as Brick (another strong feature from Johnson) nor as stylish and commercial as Knives Out, but the futuristic film never drops character development and plot logic for action. Every scene feels necessary for the overall story and when the big moments happen, they leave a lasting impression.
Of course, the action is also top-notch. Despite the setting being in 2074, Johnson doesn’t go overboard with a futuristic world like Blade Runner or Dredd. That way, futuristic weapons, and gadgets stand out even more. The action sequences are well-directed and the movements are easy to follow. Is this film perfect? No. Some of the elements of Looper aren’t fully explored; The B-plot of the specific humans having the telekinetic gene is intriguing, but the film fails to truly dig deep into the idea. It’s mainly used as a plot device, nothing more.
While it’s nice that Johnson doesn’t feel the need to explain everything to the audience, some of the rules he established early in the film become muddled. Despite its flaws, Looper is still a fantastic film that you SHOULD see. It’s one of the most creative and original movies to come out of the modern era. With Hollywood being dominated by superheroes, remakes, and sequels, Looper is a refreshing mainstream film.