The Grandfather paradox. What would you tell your past self if you could? These are some of the central thought experiments when discussing the possibility of time travel. Looper, the third film from Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom), offers a new twist to this genre by exploring what these encounters might mean to the characters involved, rather than getting caught up in the mechanical or metaphysical implications of time travel.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper, an assassin living in 2044 Kansas City and working for the mob thirty years in the future. Time travel, though illegal, is controlled by the mob and primarily used to dispose of people (apparently getting rid of bodies poses quite a problem in the 2070s). On one job, the person sent for Joe to kill is the future version of himself (Bruce Willis), who is trying to change the past (Joe’s present?) in order to save his life. Saying much more would ruin the fun twists and turns Looper takes from there. Also, it would probably get confusing as hell.
With the state of originality in mainstream cinema at an all time low, movies like Looper are a rejuvenating spa treatment, a relief from the seemingly endless march of sequels, reboots, and board game adaptations. The reduced cost of computer effects alone is beginning to offer the freshest science fiction films since the late 1970s, and on a $30 million budge, Looper look is on par with films that cost a lot more.
Of course much of that is due to the cleverly designed world envisioned by writer/director Rian Johnson. Setting the film not too far in the future has its advantages, and in a world where the poor keep getting poorer, some technology is significantly advanced from what audiences will recognize, but most of it is not. This gives Looper’s interpretation of the future weight along the lines of Minority Report, imaginative, but not wholly unfamiliar. It grounds the film, and allows the story and characters to take precedence over the effects. However, this is also one of the film’s greatest weaknesses, in that there is a lot of exposition (voice over, yeesh) and (necessary) world building at the beginning of the film before we get to the main event. It’s clunky at times, but I am not sure that there is a better way to do it.
While some may have the impression that Looper is an action movie, it’s closer to Drive in terms of its ratio of violence to conversation. To me, the intermittent bursts of violence usually pack a stronger punch, but those seeing Bruce Willis unload hundreds of bullets at a time in the trailer may be disappointed. Anyone interested in seeing a film that adds another layer to the time travel filmography will find Looper well worth the wait.
Looper opens today in Philly-area theaters.