On first blush, casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a younger version of Bruce Willis seems like it belongs in the annals of bad movie choices. Especially when you consider that Looper is a time-travel movie, meaning that Gordon-Levitt and Willis will face off in several scenes, as older and younger versions of the same character.
But the makeup department has done just enough to Gordon-Levitt—blue contact lenses, a broadened nose, slightly filled out mouth—to make the resemblance plausible and JGL’s crafty performance—nothing over the top, just a raised eyebrow here, a subtle smirk there—totally seals the deal. (There’s also a clever moment at the beginning of the film where JGL looks in the mirror, checks his hairline, and scowls—a nod to his future baldness.)
The Gordon-Levitt-as-Willis thing is, of course, just one of the many tricks up Looper’s sleeve—and not even the best one. This is one of those films where you say to yourself: If they can just live up to the promise of the trailer, they’ll really be onto to something. I think Looper more than fulfills that promise—it exceeds it.
The film is set in the mid-21st century. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet but it will be. And future crime lords will zap their victims to the past, where young guys like Gordon-Levitt’s Joe, called Loopers, will blow them away with a giant canon gun and dispose of the body. Loopers get paid well and live a life of fast-paced decadence: But there’s one catch. At some point, those future crime lords will decide to “close the Loop”—meaning terminate the Looper’s contract by having them kill the future version of themselves.
One might reasonably ask: Why on earth would a 20something agree to blow himself away? But I totally bought it. When you’re that young, you can’t imagine being over 50—you certainly can’t imagine having a life worth living at that age. Live fast, die young is the credo of these flashy young assassins—until 59-year-old Joe (now Willis) decides he has something to live for and outsmarts his young counterpart.
So many genius conceits: If young Loopers need to communicate with their aged selves, they carve messages directly into their flesh. Suddenly the old man will look down and see a memo-as-scar emerge on his forearm. (This notion that what happens to the young Looper will immediately effect their older body is played out in one particularly gruesome and rococo murder scene—use your imagination.) As in all time travel films, the past and present are fluid. Memories are precious things, because if something in the past alters the present, that memory just might slip away.
Willis, in total bad-ass mode here—I particularly loved how often he called his younger self an “idiot”—wants to avenge the death of his beloved wife. If he can cling to the memory that she ever existed, that is.
Without giving away too much, Joe, unable to “close the Loop,” finds himself laying low at a Kansas farm with a tough young mother (Emily Blunt) and her precocious little boy who may or may not be a future diabolical kingpin.
It’s amazing that, in the midst of all this kinetic sci-fi action, a kind of lazy John Ford film breaks out, but director Rian Johnson has a knack for mashing up genres. If you didn’t see Johnson’s Brick, a highly stylized and highly addictive film noir set in a high school—also starring Gordon-Levitt—you should rent it now.
Johnson’s taken a leap here. Looper is beautiful to watch, completely seductive, both visually and intellectually. The action is great, the sci-fi twists, while certainly brain teasing, are quite lucid; there’s even some unexpected flashes of humor.
A great premise leads to a great movie. Consider this loop closed.