Joseph Gordon-Levitt could be the luckiest man alive, or at least the most envied. Hollywood’s best directors such as Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan want to work with him. He did not fall to the curse of the child star. The ladies love him, even on-screen with his growing list of beautiful co-stars. He plays guitar.
And even with all of that, he’s a talented actor too, and can headline a time traveling action movie with ease. In ‘Looper’, Levitt plays a criminal named Joe that does dirty work for bad people in a different time period. It’s 2044 and time traveling exists, but it’s highly illegal. If the mob of the future needs to get rid of someone, they send him or her back in time for hit men referred to as “loopers” to dispose of. When the loops begin closing, and Joe is sent his future self to kill, played by an aging Bruce Willis, things don’t work out well.
The trailers and commercials for ‘Looper’ sell it as a high-octane action movie. It will maintain your excitement, but it also has a larger and deeper science-fiction side. One that asks the age-old time traveling ethics question: will the death to someone who commits evil prevent it from happening at all?
Director Rian Johnson doesn’t have any intention in holding the audience’s hand through the story. He lays out pieces to be deciphered, and it’s your loss if you miss out. Like he did in his 2006 film ‘Brick’, a noir murder mystery set in high school, Johnson shows that he understands how to make his story relaxed in its setting. The year 2044 that he has created looks a lot like the present, but much more bleaker and discouraging. It’s how the biggest pessimist imagines the future, and fits nicely with Joe’s time twisting journey.
The chemistry between young Joe and old Joe works well but never stays simple. Levitt is strapped with facial prosthetics to achieve a similar pattern to the weathered face of Willis. Both seemingly pull off being the same person, with each having their own experience and perspective. There’s a very ‘Twilight Zone’ feeling to it. The cast rounds out with Jeff Daniels as a mob member from the future with a soft side, and Emily Blunt playing mother to a child that will have significance from where old Joe came from.
Kudos to Johnson for trusting the audience with a sophisticated mind-bender. If you can keep up, it will take you places not many movies nowadays achieve. Brainy, big-budget science fiction has been on the rise, such as the films by Duncan Jones (‘Moon’, ‘Source Code’) catching a wide audience’s eye. ‘Looper’ is a welcome addition to the category, and sets the bar for big action with inventive narratives.
By E.J. Spangler