Directed by Rian Johnson
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Time travel tales are tricky to do right, it seems. One expects a certain amount of timey-wimeyness with any such tale, taking full advantage of the benefits of the genre, otherwise what’s the point? It’s like watching a 3D movie with no depth, or stuff popping out of the screen at you. A missed opportunity. Likewise, one hopes that a time travel story won’t go overboard with its temporal shenanigans, lest it become a gimmicky mess full of winking and nodding and little in the way of decent storytelling.
The third film from writer/director Rian Johnson (following the fantastic Brick and The Brothers Bloom), Looper walks this tightrope with ease, telling a time travelling sci-fi story with as much heart and brains as it has “ooohs” and “ah-has”. While there are plenty of satisfying moments throughout the film that exploit the basic nature of its sci-fi premise, it never fails to engage the viewer with its smart writing and superb performances, along with its themes of loss, revenge, and ultimately, redemption.
Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper – that is, a hitman who kills a very specific type of mark. When he is given a time and place, he appears and kills those who blink into existence in front of him – sent from a future where forensics have advanced to such a degree that organized crime must use time travel to dispose of their victims. This job pays well enough, allowing for Joe’s extravagant lifestyle of drugs, vintage automobiles, and high-end call girls (he even has enough left over to fill a massive floor safe in his apartment). Life is good for Joe, until…
Joe (Willis) is a retired hitman. Once a Looper himself, he’s long since quit the murder game in order to live out his days in peace with his beloved wife. Unfortunately for Joe, a new criminal mastermind has been eliminating his competition, even going so far as to kill retired Loopers by sending them back to their younger selves to murder. When Joe’s wife is killed, he commandeers a time machine and sends himself back, hoping to eliminate his wife’s murderer long before he rises to power. As a result, he comes face to face with his younger self, who must defend his reputation (and therefore his life) by killing his target, even though that target is himself.
Again, it’s nice to see a science fiction film that remembers to tell an emotionally engaging story, along with hitting all the hallmarks of the genre. Johnson is a fantastic filmmaker, with a great eye and a deft hand at pulling solid performances from his actors. I appreciate that, in addition to telling a cracking good yarn, he insists on giving his films some thematic weight, allowing his tales to resonate more with audiences. In addition, he shoots on film and seems to prefer a more lo-fi way of executing his visuals and action setpieces, which better grounds the futuristic world he presents in Looper. This viewer eagerly anticipates the man’s next project.
One can’t forget to praise the cast of Looper as well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the thankless task of impersonating a young Bruce Willis (with the aid of some sometimes great/sometimes blah makeup work), all while creating a character that is wholly his own. It should be no surprise for fans of the young actor that he pulls off this challenge admirably, ably leading the film while creating a seamless bridge between his younger Joe and Willis’ older incarnation. Speaking of Willis, I can’t remember the last time the veteran thesp seemed this engaged by the material he was given to work with. His take on a long-reformed murderer is fascinating, especially as we watch tragedy and circumstance change him into something monstrous. It’s a joy, watching the two actors play the same character (especially when they have scenes together), and is all the more interesting when one realizes that they have wildly different arcs in the story. The rest of the cast is filled out by perfectly capable actors doing great work, including Jeff Daniels as an imposing, yet oddly charming mafioso; Paul Dano as a hapless Looper with terrible luck; Noah Segan as a douchey, would-be villain; and Emily Blunt as a hardnosed, shotgun-packing mother willing to sacrifice everything for the life of her child (the less said about this part of the story, the better).
The image on Sony’s Blu-ray release is pretty fantastic, with striking clarity and gorgeous colors. Though the blacks occasionally look a bit washed out in some interior sequences, this viewer could find little else to fault with the film’s transfer. The 5.1 audio track is stunning as well, with great detail and the ability to knock you out of your chair during some of the action sequences. It’s a great presentation for a great film.
The decently-sized bonus section begins with an audio commentary with Johnson, Gordon-Levitt, and (eventually) Blunt, who discuss the movie and its making at length. It’s a fun track, especially for fans of the flick. Next up is a making-of featurette, which hits all the expected bases, and a trio of pieces on the making of the film’s awesomely unconventional musical score (which will likely surprise most viewers, given the amount of work that went into creating the film’s aural landscape). There are twenty-two deleted scenes (on the Blu, only five on the DVD), which equal about forty minutes of excised footage. Though most of the trims are understandable, one feels for Noah Segan, whose Kid Blue character had much more to do in the film’s original cut. Lastly, there is a nifty featurette on the science of time travel, and an animated piece that recreates the film’s trailer with some nifty artwork. All in all, a pretty great package.
If it feels as though I gave the film the short shrift in discussing its story at length, please understand that it’s only because I hesitate to ruin the film’s many surprises. I hope you’ll take my word that it’s one of the more surprising, satisfying, and emotionally gripping movies that I had the pleasure of seeing last year. If you didn’t manage to catch it in theaters, now is your chance to rectify this problem. Buy it, rent it, whatever. Just see it ASAP. You’ve waited long enough.
Looper animated trailer
4 out of 5
4 out of 5