“This time travel crap, just fries your brain like an egg…”: ‘Looper’ Review
In honor of time travel month, we thought we would start out with a bang and what better way to start than with Rian Johnson’s modern sci-fi classic, Looper. Before he continues the legacy of the Skywalker family with his insanely anticipated Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson first explored the genre through a story about time travel, meeting your older self and the consequences of violence.
Taking cues from classic time travel stories like The Terminator, Looper follows Young Joe (a dynamite Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young looper – hired guns contracted by the mob to kill someone, as he discovers what happens when the tables turn and he has to target his older self (Bruce Willis, in one of his signature roles).
A fan of noirs and westerns alike (see Brick for future reference) Johnson imbues Looper with dashes of classic tropes of both genres including the idea of showing the consequences of violence in a story. The cyclicality of violence is one of the main themes of the film and Johnson sticks to exploring that theme with depth, humanity and a bold complexity that makes his third film a highly satisfying entry into the sci-fi genre. Aside from exploring the nature of violence, Looper is also a fascinating, futuristic crime tale that utilizes its time travel mechanic to explore a character-centric storyline – it’s all about how Joe and Old Joe are affected and how they affect themselves and others because of time travel. But even if the time travel isn’t enough, Johnson also decides to explore other concepts that are wonderfully hidden in the background like the fact that his world has people with psychic abilities. Rather than take time away from the main story, he simply lets that be a background detail that nonetheless beautifully serves to inform the world of the film.
Divided into two sections, one is a futuristic noir with echoes of Blade Runner and the other being a family western drama (this section includes a tremendous performance by the incredible Emily Blunt) reminiscent of Witness, Looper is unlike any science fiction time travel film out there. One of the brave things that Johnson does with his storytelling is testing the audience’s moral compass in relation to the characters. Without giving anything away it’s fascinating to see how he manages to take a movie star of the caliber of Bruce Willis and essentially turns him into The Terminator. That’s one of the bold and courageous aspects that Johnson brings to Looper and to his characters.
With a terrific cast led by Gordon-Levitt, and wonderful supporting work from Jeff Daniels, Noah Segan, Paul Dano and Pierce Gagnon, Looper is what every science fiction film should aspire to be. Thanks to a complex script, technical proficiency (the Steve Yedlin cinematography and Nathan Johnson score are absolute highlights), remarkable world building and emotional storytelling, Looper is one of the best science fiction films and one that shows what happens when directors are allowed to express their visions without any restrictions.