The year is 2044. Time travel hasn't been invented yet, but in 30 years it will be. It's already been outlawed, but that doesn't stop the mob from using it. What does the mob use it for? Killing people, of course. Why, you say? Apparently, disposing a body has become extremely difficult in 2074, so the only way to really get rid of someone is to send them to the past where there will be no trace. It's a little confusing at first, but Looper doesn't spend a ton of time dwelling on the details, and just gets on with the story.
Loopers are contracted by the mob to do the killing in the present, and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the best in the business. They get paid well for their work, but there is a drawback: when the mob decides your contract is up, they send your future self back to be killed by your younger self. This is called 'closing the loop'. You're paid off, and then you're free to live your remaining 30 years. At first I thought that would suck, but then I realized it's kind of cool knowing how many years you have left and when you're going to die. Plus, you're basically retired in your prime with a pile of money.
It's very bad when a Looper lets his future self get away, which you see an example of when one of Joe's friends, another Looper played by Paul Dano, lets this happen. This shows you an early example of how the movie uses the cause and effect relationship of time travel in their world. Shortly after, Joe is awaiting the arrival of his next hit, but hesitates when he realizes that it's his future self (Bruce Willis). Future Joe uses this hesitation to get away, but he has a bigger goal in mind than just staying alive. This is about the end of where I talk about that plot, as I really don't want to spoil anything for you. Looper has lots of nice surprises and is a movie you'll enjoy all the more the less you know about it.
Looper is one of the few time travel movies that didn't make my head hurt or confuse the hell out of me. It never gets into the specifics of how the time travel worked or any of the science, and it's really not important to understand that. There are all kinds of nice touches to make it work in our world. Like, modern cars that all appear to be retrofitted with an alternative powersource, solar panels affixed to almost everything, and the occasional gadget shows up from time to time. They didn't go overboard with futuristic elements, so it felt more realistic and like it was still set in our world.
Another thing I loved, is that without even trying, this becomes a much better origin story for Darth Vader than any of the Star Wars prequels. I can't say why without spoiling a huge plot element, but you'll know what I'm talking about once you see it.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt does his best Bruce Willis impression, and they even did a good job with the makeup to make him look like a younger version of Bruce Willis. His performance makes the whole thing more believeable, since you don't have stray thoughts of how the old and young versions of Joe don't look or act enough like. When these two square off, they play off each other well and have some great moments. Willis shows emotional depth as he struggles with doing things he knows are wrong, but necesary to preserve his future. Both are great and made the movie worth watching.
It's a great supporting cast as well. Jeff Daniels plays a mob boss that's in charge of the Loopers, and he has the weariness of someone that's living in the present knowing how the future going to turn out. You can tell he had a lot of fun with the role. Joe eventually hides out in a country home where he slowly befriends a mother (Emily Blunt) and son (Pierce Gagnon). Blunt was good as a tough mother that is just trying to protect her son, and Gagnon was surprisingly good in a role that plays a large part in the plot. Garrett Dillahunt and Piper Perabo have small roles as well.
After having critical success with smaller films like Brick and The Brothers Bloom, writer/director Rian Johnson has a hit on his hands. I think he's ready to move into Christopher Nolan territory, and I expect much bigger things from him soon. I would love to see what he could do with a known sci-fi/fantasy franchise.
Looper is a smart, fun and thrilling sci-fi film that succeeds on multiple levels. Because it doesn't hammer the audience with the sci-fi elements, and has some emotional depth to it, it will appeal to a much broader audience. It'll make you think, and I'm already looking forward to seeing it again. This is something you shouldn't miss in the theater.
4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars