In the year 2044, time travel hasn’t been invented yet. But in another 30 years, it will have been. In that future, when the mob — which has taken over society through a vast organized crime network — wishes to kill someone, they send the person back in time to be killed by hired assassins, called loopers. The kill is quick, the body is disposed of without a trace, and the assassins are paid with bars of silver for their services.
But loopers don’t exactly have it good. When the mob chooses to terminate the contract of a looper, they send the looper’s future self 30 years into the past to be killed by his younger self. By “closing the loop,” as it is called, loopers receive a generous payday, but the clock begins ticking: they only have 30 years left to live.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. He is, more or less, a lost soul, a junkie assassin with a dark past who yearns to learn French and visit Paris once his loop is closed. With each kill, Joe saves up half the silver he earns so that he can live well in Paris. But his loop may be closing sooner than he thinks.
Seth (Paul Dano), Joe’s friend and fellow looper, discovers via his future self that a man, known in the future as the Rainmaker, is taking over organized crime and closing all loops for reasons unknown. Faced with offing his future self, Seth can’t pull the trigger, and so flees to Joe’s for protection. Joe hides Seth, but later fesses up to his boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), about Seth’s whereabouts in exchange for more silver.
Dispatched for another seemingly routine kill but weary of who his next target may be, Joe hesitates and recognizes his target is, in fact, his future self (played by Bruce Willis). Old Joe knocks out Young Joe and flees, beginning a cat and mouse game of hide and seek, in which Old Joe attempts to find the young Rainmaker and change the future while Young Joe tries to hunt down his future self and fix his mistake by closing his loop.
The tale continues as Young Joe stumbles upon a farm and meets eventual allies in Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), Old Joe tracks down possible Rainmakers, and Abe’s mob of Gat-men seek to destroy both Joes and restore the present and future as they are meant to unfold.
This is a story involving time travel and sci-fi, and as such, contains various story devices and potential plot holes. Fortunately, writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick) has done a commendable job tying up the inevitable strings of his story, but he also has done well in setting up the rules for the film’s world. Some of the answers to viewer’s questions will undoubtedly result in a “because it just does” manner, but more often than not, there is an answer to the questions of how time travel and society work in Looper.
Even better, however, is that Rian Johnson didn’t make time travel, or special effects, the focus of Looper. No doubt the film’s limited budget aids in this, but time travel serves only as a functional aspect of the story, which is more concerned with the relationships between the characters and the consequences of a person’s morals and actions. Johnson brings a human element to his film which, if it lacked, would make this story suffer.
Two characters — Abe and Old Joe — mention something along the lines of the time travel logic “frying your brain like an egg.” If you focus too much on the micro of the story — the rules of time travel — you get sucked into theories of closed loops, open loops, and alternative loops, and miss out on the story that is unfolding as you try to justify every scene and every action involved. But, if you instead focus on the macro — the characters and the morals and motivations of each action — and simply accept that time travel exists and there are rules for it, you get lost in the world that Johnson has created and become extremely invested in his characters.
Looper is driven by the acting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, but the supporting actors here — namely Emily Blunt and her on-screen son Pierce Gagnon — are no slouches either. In fact, Gagnon gives one of the best performance in the film as the 4- or 5-year-old Cid.
Johnson’s writing, an original idea that developed somewhere inside his mind, is superb, and allows the characters the ability to take some chances. The score is minimalistic and dark, and the makeup used to make Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis is great, though it is a bit distracting given just how similar the two begin to look. In sum, the various components that were brought together to create Looper work in symphony to create a truly fantastic film.
Some viewers may have trouble with simply accepting the story and the world of Looper, but they shouldn’t have to. Time travel doesn’t exist. Any form of it that shows up in a film, including that which plays a part in Looper, is purely speculative in nature. That is why Johnson chooses not to focus on it as the driver of the story and the action, and the film is much better off as a result of that choice.