Review: Time Traveling ‘Looper’ is Well Worth the Trip

The problem with most time travel movies, as with time travel itself, is that we know exactly what is going to happen.

Not so in Looper, an exciting, fresh movie about the perils of time travel, especially when controlled by vast criminal networks.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a hitman for the mob sent back from the distant future to the closer future.

The film is set in 2042. With time travel invented and then outlawed, it has become the exclusive territory of a world-wide criminal gang who finds disposing of bodies to be too difficult in the future future of 2072, what with all the tracking devices and high-tech surveillance. They solve this quandary by sending assassins to live in the past future of 2042. The mob sends back a poor bum who crosses them the wrong way. Then the killer (or looper) shoots him and disposes of the body that doesn’t, technically, exist in this time plane of 2042. It’s a perfect crime.

You see, when time travel is outlawed, only outlaws have time travel.

The near future, and presumably the future future, is bleak. There’s no work, cars and homes are crumbling. Vagrants roam the countryside. In the bosom of the mob, though, it’s all good money and friendly working girls for Joe, a classic stoic noir hero in a decidedly sci-fi noir world.

That is, until he receives a target for execution named – wait for it – Joe (Bruce Willis). Yep. It’s older, balder himself.

His future self makes a break for freedom, determined to survive and ruin the good life for the current Joe.

It’s Joe versus Joe versus a very angry time-traveling criminal conspiracy.

Versus, well, that’s really all I can say, although the plot contains many more people, twists that don’t seem like twists, and a few truly creepy elements. Emily Blunt is involved in the later plot, in a role I can’t reveal. One of the delights of this film was that it did not telegraph where it was going. I was more surprised, pleasantly surprised, by the twists and turns of the plot than I have been in at least a year. I wouldn’t dream of ruining that for my readers, no matter how many other elements were waiting to be written about.

Another pleasure of the film was the fantastic script with some unexpectedly hilarious moments. Some of the best lines – again, which I won’t reveal – come from Jeff Daniels as Abe, the crime lord from the future future who has also been sent back to the past future. He runs the looper program with a resigned, worldly wisdom. Daniels gives a good performance, equal measures hilarious and menacing.

It was fun to see Bruce Willis step perfectly into the role of aged action hero. He shines, as does Joseph Gordon-Levitt. When Willis picks up a semi-automatic weapon and takes on a hallway of people who surely have it coming, you almost want to break out into a chorus of “Happy Days are Here Again!” The scene was probably unnecessary and written into the script just for Willis, but, let’s face it: If Bruce Willis leaving a trail of mayhem behind him is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Mayhem is definitely par for the course in this movie. The violence is gritty and gory, not quite Saving Private Ryan but also not cartoon violence of, say, your average comic book movie. If it were just the violence and fairly pervasive language, I’d give this R rated movie a go ahead for some teens, depending on family mores. But there is a highly unnecessary scene involving extended female toplessness. Although the movie does not display sex scenes, it does linger on Piper Perabo as a lady of the night who, apparently, is allergic to wearing shirts.

It’s too bad, too, because the rest of the movie is so much fun. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, who also collaborated with Gordon-Levitt in the excellent movie Brick, this film is a rarity in a world of cookie-cutter blockbusters: An original concept, well-acted and well-produced.

It is the best movie I’ve seen since The Avengers back in May.

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  • Dwight Davis

    Great review of a great film. One complaint: You say that the mob sends assasins to live in the past for them. That’s not accurate. They recruit people from the past to do their dirty work for them. And you didn’t mention that part of being a looper is knowing that one day you’ll have to kill your future self, so Joe isn’t the only one who has to do this.

  • ohhh…its a very movie.looper is very strong actor in this movie.I like it….