I will do my best to stick to the minimal plot details - Sometime around 2070, time travel is discovered to be feasible, and is immediately outlawed. Of course, this does not stop the more powerful criminal organizations of that time period from using it to get rid of their enemies. Said enemies are bound and gagged, and then send back in time to the year 2044, where a hit man known as a "looper" is waiting for them to shoot them dead as soon as they arrive. The looper then takes his reward (bars of silver that have been strapped to the victim), and disposes of the body, essentially erasing the person from existence. We are introduced to this concept by one of the best loopers in the business - a hardened young man named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who answers to a local crime boss named Abe (Jeff Daniels).
Joe is a selfish and self-centered man - He's addicted to a futuristic drug, and seldom thinks of anyone but himself. He certainly doesn't think about the victims that are sent to him to kill. He actually shoots them the very second they appear before him, not even bothering to look at their faces. But one day, he is forced to look at the victim, when the person shows up without the usual hood covering their head. It is revealed to be the Joe from 30 years from now (Bruce Willis). This event of a looper encountering and having to kill his future self is actually not a rare occurrence. It's actually how a looper knows that their time in the business is over. Once they kill their future selves, they are required to leave the business, and just enjoy the next 30 years until it is their time to be sent back to be killed.
Regardless Old Joe will not go quietly. He escapes from his bonds, and knocks his younger self out, making an escape. This is the point where I will have to tread lightly with the plot in order to avoid spoilers. Joe actually manages to have a meeting with his future self in a local cafe, where he learns that the elder Joe has his own motives for being sent back in the past. The future Joe is very different from the one we know - He's quieter, more caring. Something happened during those 30 years to change him. What it is, I will not reveal, nor will I reveal how a young single mother living on a farm (Emily Blunt) and her young son (Pierce Gagnon) play a part in it all. Like I said, figuring it out is part of the fun, and I haven't had this much fun figuring out a movie in a long time.
Looper is not a movie that tries to trick us, but I was genuinely surprised by some of the revelations that writer-director Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom) throws in. What's even more surprising is that these plot developments actually work, and add to the enjoyment of the film. So many times, when movies try to be clever, they end up trying too hard, or trying to fool us with red herrings and wrong information. This movie plays fair. It doesn't jerk us around, and it's actually thought its plot through, so there's no out of the blue plot points, or convoluted back-peddling in order to cover up logic holes. It's not exactly a simple narrative, but it never once tries to throw us off, nor does it get lost in its own complexities.
I also admired the futuristic world that the movie has given us. While there are some sci-fi trappings like hover bikes and futuristic-looking buildings, there is still a sense of reality to its design. It looks like technology that could feasibly be just a little while away. So many movies like this get lost in its world, or focuses so much on the production design and effects that it forgets the story and characters. This one is successful on all levels. We care about these characters, especially the elder Joe, who almost seems taken aback by his younger self. Willis gives a low key, yet very emotional and feeling performance here. While he does get a number of action sequences, he's quite intelligent and is immediately intelligent and sympathetic. Compare his work here to his recent performance in the massive turkey, The Cold Light of Day, and it's like looking at two different actors.
The entire cast is equally wonderful. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt becoming one of the hardest working actors in the movies right now, there's a danger of being overexposed to audiences. And yet, he makes a great antihero. The younger Joe is not a good person, or even all that nice of a guy. We follow him, because we want to see how he goes from the way he is now to the point where he becomes the more soft-spoken and likable elder Joe. We see glimpses of it during the course of the film, as Joe is forced to reevaluate his life. It's a great central performance that carries the film well. Sadly, he does not get to interact with Willis much, but the few scenes they are together (especially a confrontation in a diner) are memorable.
Looper is a rich and rewarding movie. It's full of ideas, and actually knows how to use them. With so many cookie cutter and formulaic films coming out of Hollywood, here is something that actually tries to think its complex plot through, and awards us for our efforts of following it along. Even the ending finds the right note. This is a movie that aims high, and actually makes it, due to the fact the script has been treated with such care.
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