Joe’s life is not complicated. He gets a slip of paper with a time of day. He goes to a quiet Kansas cornfield. He waits for the appointment. Learns a little French. Shoots a man from the future. Incinerates him. Gets paid. Repeats.
Until his future self arrives in that field.
Looper pits Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis against each other in a deliciously pulpy sci-fi thriller. While the film is preoccupied with the effects of time-travel, it doesn’t get caught up in dissecting the rules. Instead, time travel frames what Joe will gain by killing Future Joe – or, potentially worse, what Joe will lose by not killing his future self.
Gordon-Levitt is recast as a classic anti-hero: aloof, drug addict, solitary. While you may find him dispassionate at first, the film slowly builds him as an everyday man trapped by a disintegrating city. Learning French paints him early on as an assassin with a dream of getting out. After failing to kill his future self, Joe must evade his organization while trying to finish the job. Upon finding that Future Joe is after Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), Joe begins to question what he is willing to sacrifice to get back his life.
If Looper riffs on Gordon-Levitt’s good guy star persona, it fully embraces Bruce Willis’ campy action caricature. An actor continually reviving himself from genre film history, Bruce Willis is perfectly fit for a man sent back in time to fight for his future. Future Joe is desperately trying to stop the man who killed his wife. Going back to the past presents an opportunity to stop the man responsible for his wife’s death – even if that means killing a child.
Looper’s strength isn’t in its action sequences, special effects, or novel concepts. That’s not to say they’re bad: I enjoyed the film’s treatment of time travel as a murder weapon, and Bruce Willis shooting up a building full of bad guys never gets old. Where Looper shines is in Joe’s struggle to be the good guy. If you aren’t willing to buy that Joe is a man who wants a better future, you won’t find the conflict between Joe and his future self compelling. Both characters are fighting for a better life. Time travel forces us to see how this conflict forces both characters to make dark decisions in the present.
My main criticism of Looper is its use of both time travel and telekinesis. Telekinesis only comes into place in the second half of the film, but it complicated a film that was, at its center, about time travel. Telekinesis benefitted the film’s action sequences, but it also dangled some plot threads that could have been tied a little tighter. That being said, Looper fulfills itself as a genre film that promises concept-heavy plot and sci-fi action – and delivers both.