Hello Future Self
If you'd look at writer-director Rian Johnson's modest filmography, the films he had made cannot be boxed into a single genre, and their treatment has never been conventional. Brick was a murder mystery done film noir style, while The Brothers Bloom is a fairy tale about con men. Now he reunites with his Brick star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's fast cementing his status as being one of the best actors amongst his peers, and loops a story involving time travel, with a mish-mash of elements from Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (which also starred Bruce Willis) and James Cameron's The Terminator, but delivered in a refreshing manner encapsulated by a fairly creative tale that's beautifully character driven.
In Johnson's vision of the future, time travel becomes a reality, but got immediately outlawed for all the damage it can cause, some of which we'd already know from many science fiction films. But that doesn't stop the mob from harnessing the technology to do its dirty work, especially when it needs to get rid of people without a trace. So those on the mob's hit list got shackled and sent back in time to the year 2014, where their looper employee gets to execute people from the future, and dispose of them. The bounty's some slabs of silver that come with their target, so that makes it quite a lucrative career, with Abe (Jeff Daniels) being the man from the future sent back to look after this hit squad operation.
But here's the catch. Should this contractual agreement need to be closed, the future self of the looper gets sent back, and executed. And before you'd think that's a loophole for trouble, it's actually brilliant, because it provides an insurance policy that doesn't exist in any other scenario, and the movie actually takes time to address this suspicion of a paradox. In fact, Johnson takes the time to work any space time continuum paradox to be in the story's favour, which allows one to watch the film at first go without getting all flustered about this inherent aspect of any time travel film, with a very nice touch put in about half hour into the story, where rules get set up, and the parameters drawn in which his universe is set to operate in.
This paradox involves someone from the future coming back, and that you'd recognize him/her for the first time as your future self. But for this moment in time to happen in the present, we're really dealing with two separate timelines which now converge. And the film presents all these timelines in a single narrative, nicely edited to allow its chinese production partners some story telling time that dwells on Bruce Willis' Old Joe in future Shanghai, expanded for Old Joe to have a richer back story since Joe himself has a decent one for the present time, before both Joes converge. For the non-Chinese cut of the film, many of these aspects got unfortunately edited for pacing reasons, so I suppose picking up the DVD/Blu later is quite the no brainer.
When the Joes converge, it's really when the narrative shifts gear, with a lot more action since the story now goes off like when the cue ball opens a billiards game. Joe and Old Joe sit down to evaluate their options and to exchange none-too-pleasant pleasantries, with Joe needing to fulfill his end of the contract, but Old Joe adamant in not letting him so, at least not until he gets his revenge on the Rainmaker, which is a Terminator-ish plot line to get rid of an influential messiah like character who's now a child in the present time. To complicate matters, there are three possibles.
And while these are action based, it's the subtly treated character arcs on both Joes that made Looper more than just your average science fiction flick, ad gives it soul. There's no clear right or wrong here, only shades of grey, where Old Joe has to find it within himself to turn executioner for the greater good, and young Joe has to turn protector, since he's buckled himself with Emily Blunt's Sara, and her young kid Cid (Pierce Gagnon) to prevent his future self from eventually coming for them. And the best conflict presented, is if should Old Joe succeed in his mission, it's likely the future will change and he would forget about his deceased wife (Qing Xu), since the circumstances of their meeting will inevitably be changed. And this memory is something he fights so hard to want to keep alive.
It is these internal conflicts and battling with demons that make Looper the top notch entertainer, where ultimately any sacrifice to change the world, should begin with the steps one will take on one's end. The final third will definitely blow your mind as Johnson had kept a number of aces up his sleeve, to deliver sucker punch after sucker punch where it mattered for the final act. Visual effects wasn't out of this world nor never seen before, but were gelled excellently for the purpose of adding to the narrative, rather than for the sake of. Production values are solid, especially when used to present different timelines, or areas within the futuristic landscapes.
Bruce Willis still showed he's kind of kick-ass, and still had it within him to play action hero who ploughs through anyone who dare stand in his way, including his younger self. But the scene stealer is of course Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who through the help of prosthetics to make him facially resemble Willis in his younger days, really nailed it with the nuances and mannerisms that screams Bruce Willis. Emily Blunt was rather rote here, while Paul Dano had a small supporting role primarily used to explain Looper's parameters. Noah Segan's Kid Blue becomes one of the main villains in the film hell bent on proving himself to Abe, whose values are in contrast to the principles held by Joe. And lastly, Pierce Gagnon as the kid who could fit right in to any horror film that deals with demonic possession.
Looper has both style and substance for a science fiction movie, and is a film that begs another viewing just to take in everything that's been thrown on screen and introduced into the story. And to make this second viewing worthwhile, guess what? Rian Johnson has actually made an In-Theatre Commentary Track that you can download at Soundcloud for free, which you can plug into to listen in on the nuggets of information he's eager to share. It will be totally different from the DVD/Blu commentary track, so don't miss out on what could possibly be the best science fiction film this year!