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Movie Review: Looper

By Toussaint Egan

Time travel has not been invented yet. But thirty years from now, it will be. This is the premise of the latest film from Director Rian Johnson, a science-fiction action thriller called “Looper”, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a man living in the year 2044, who works as a hired gun for the Mafia executing and disposing of the bodies of undesirable targets.  But there’s a catch; Joe’s not just any regular hired gun. He’s a Looper, a specialized assassin tasked to kill targets sent back in time by the Mafia in the future so as to avoid leaving any trace of evidence in the future.

The future portrayed in the film is a particularly bleak one. Loopers are very well off and are viewed as distinguished members of the upper crust of society. As a consequence, their occupation attracts the attention of some of the most brash and woefully desperate of criminals. However, the life of a Looper is as finite as it is luxurious.  At the end of every Looper’s tenure, they agree to kill their future selves in order to erase any prolonged connection between them and the Mafia. This is called, “closing one’s loop.” Following this, the Looper retires with a generous severance package of gold and is permitted to live out the last thirty years of their life in peace.

After a series of unfortunate circumstances, Joe is tasked with killing his future self (Bruce Willis). In a moment of hesitation, the future Joe is able to overpower his younger self and escape for some as-of-yet unknown purpose. Joe must then hunt down and kill his future self, while escaping the ruthless pursuit of his former employers, before his present and future are utterly destroyed in the process. And then things get complicated.

Levitt and Willis do an excellent job portraying the same character simultaneously, seamlessly trading off the roles of protagonist and antagonist back and forth throughout the course of the film. Their scenes together are charged with enough intrigue and tension to keep any audience on the edge of their seat.

Composer Nathan Johnson’s score for the film is phenomenal. Pieced together from a slew of standard percussion instruments complemented by field recordings and sounds culled from the actual filming, the soundtrack resonates with a noir-esque aesthetic with a vibe of industrial electronica thundering underneath the surface. Not to mention the choice selection of a few amazing licensed tracks such as Powerful Love by Chuck & Mac.

The prosthetic facial make-up used to create Levitt’s appearance is particularly impressive, and combined with his superb acting performance craft a remarkably uncanny portrayal echoing the distinct behavioral nuances of the older Bruce Willis. His beyond-his-years weariness, his brooding saunter of a walk, his charmingly wry sense of sarcastic wit; all of it is there and more. The cinematography for the film is equally fantastic.

There were multiple times throughout the film where I was slack jawed and amazed as to how certain sequences and shots were pulled off so effectively. The violence in the film is sporadic and seldom overly exaggerated, complementing the serious tone of the film perfectly. On the continuum of time-travel complexity, Looper falls closer in line to the comprehensibility of Back to the Future than it ever does to the disorienting convolution of films like Primer. This is one of the film’s many assets, as the narrative never sprawls too far away into speculative territory to detract from the very human core at the heart of the story. There’s a number of interesting surprises left to be found in this film beyond the initial premise. I’d hate to say anything more and chance giving them up.

When I finished watching Looper, I walked out of the theater with the distinct impression that I had just watched something very special, something that’s all too rare in the scheme of contemporary film as of late.  Looper is an original sci-fi film that manages to take a standard science fiction trope, predetermined fate through time travel, and do something wonderfully distinctive and memorable with it. Make no mistake, you will walk out of this film with questions. You will want to talk about this film with your friends, and you will most likely want to go see it again. Looper has a visual and narrative aesthetic whose appeal lies in carefully treading the line between subdued and powerfully arresting cinematography. It’s the kind of film that you’ll be glad you took the opportunity to see in theaters. I’d hate for anyone to miss out on it.