Review of Looper

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In a futuristic gangland, a killer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works for a mob in the year 2042 as a "Looper", where he kills and disposes of people who are sent from the year 2072. Loopers like himself are well paid on the terms that the target must never escape. When one target arrives however he recognizes the victim (Bruce Willis) as himself and hesitates, allowing his older self to escape. The resulting failure of his job causes the mob to come after him, forcing him to fight for his life as he hunts his older self.
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Movie Review: "Looper"

-- Rating: R
Length: 118 minutes
Release Date: September 28, 2012
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller

"Looper" is director Rian Johnson's third film, coming off the heels of the critically acclaimed "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom." The time travel thriller stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("The Dark Knight Rises") as Joe, a man hired to kill his older self (Bruce Willis). While the plot sounds simplistic on paper, Johnson has created a sci-fi noir that is filled with memorable characters.

The story takes place in the future, where time travel has been deemed illegal. Only the largest criminal organizations use it to eliminate associates or to pull off heists. Joe works as a looper for a criminal syndicate run by Abe (Jeff Daniels). Loopers are hired to close the time travel loop by murdering their older selves. Joe loves his lifestyle, running around with his gang dubbed the Gat Boys, wreaking havoc, and living the good life. All of this comes to a halt when Joe runs into his older self. Failing to murder Old Joe puts the younger version on the run and into the middle of a mystery about the whereabouts and origins of the future crime lord, the Rainmaker. Joe finds refuge at a farm, where Sara (Emily Blunt) and her young, telepathic son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) reside.

Johnson, whose directorial style has always received critical accolades, takes on the science fiction genre with a cinematic flair that is reminiscent of films like "Blade Runner" and the original "Matrix." As he did with the detective genre in "Brick" and the heist film in "The Brothers Bloom," Johnson takes science fiction to new heights while spinning old plot tropes into new directions. The time travel story has been done so many times, it's refreshing to see a film do it without relying on what has come before. Taking the film to an even higher level is the characterization, which is given priority over action or CGI cityscapes.

A lot of the movie's success rests on the shoulders of Levitt. "Looper" is his second starring role in a Johnson-directed film, and that familiarity has allowed Levitt to give his acting room to breathe. His take on Joe is that of a man who loves his lifestyle without seeing the consequence of his crimes. Only when he's confronted with his older self does he begin to realize what his actions have wrought. The character's move from youthful carelessness to weariness is reflected upon the sudden appearance of Old Joe.

Willis is excellent as Old Joe, matching Levitt in every scene he appears in. Continually underrated as an actor, Willis adds a sense of hopelessness to the character, giving a vision of Old Joe that is in stark contrast to his youthful self's indiscretions. He plays Joe as a man obsessed with finding the Rainmaker, stopping at nothing to change the past in his attempt to selfishly protect his own future.

Time travel as a plot device can be problematic, but "Looper" manages to avoid these issues by not dwelling on the science of going back to the past. Even the best films that deal with time travel are often bogged down with exposition that dares viewers to find holes in the filmmakers' logic. Here, Johnson smartly avoids this by simply saying time travel was outlawed. Very little time is given to the science behind it, allowing audiences to pay attention to the story and the characters without worrying about any time-bending plot holes.

There is a huge tonal shift in the film that may jar audiences looking for wall-to-wall action. What starts out as a fast-paced crime film in the midst of a giant futuristic city suddenly slows down and becomes almost quiet when young Joe meets Sara and Cid. Johnson's choice to take "Looper" from a dark sci-fi noir to a bright and sunny farm is gutsy, but the character work and performances of the actors more than make up for any lack of action. By letting things slow and settle for a few minutes, Johnson makes the action-packed conclusion feel even more urgent to the viewer.

With "Looper," Johnson has created his third successful film and his first that should be in the discussion as one of the best in its genre. Calling a film an instant classic may feel like hyperbole, but "Looper" is so fantastic, it's something that needs to be seen and celebrated in theaters. While it is rare for the Academy Awards to nominate a science fiction film, "Looper" is very much a movie that should be in the conversation for the annual awards ceremony.

Rating: 4 out of 5