In the future, people’s past versions are paid to kill their even-further-in-the-future selves in Looper, a fun little sci-fi movie.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an assassin in 2044 but he’s kind of a lazy assassin. He doesn’t have to follow a guy or track him down. Instead he waits in a field until poof, a guy appears hooded and bound and on his knees on a tarp. Boom, Joe blows him away and then in what seems like mere moments, Joe wraps him up in a tarp and deposits the body into some kind of incinerator. The departed, you see, comes from 30 years in the future when it is apparently very hard for organized crime to get rid of a body but easy enough for them to master time travel. They send poor shmoes back to 2044 to be killed and disposed of, and they hire loopers, as the assassins like Joe are called, to do the deed with their big loud blunderbuss guns. When they no longer require the services of a certain looper, they send his 30-years-hence self back to be killed, which the looper learns by finding the big-money payout of gold bars where their standard silver-bar fee would be (attached to the back of the newly dead guy). As Joe explains, loopers know this is the score going in.
That doesn’t mean they’re always cool with it. Joe’s friend Seth (Paul Dano) awaits the appearance of a mark, but when the man starts singing a song from Seth’s childhood, he doesn’t pull the trigger right away. Turns out he’s facing himself but he doesn’t have the guts to “close his loop” as it’s called. As one might imagine, the gangsters — including boss Abe (Jeff Daniels), who has come from the future to run the loopers in 2044 — aren’t so understanding, and Joe sees firsthand what happens when you try to let yourself live.
Thusly, when Joe sees himself (Bruce Willis) appear on the tarp, he is not full of warm chit chat and questions about what items have been ticked off the bucket list.
So if you travel back from the future and kill somebody but then the present-day you is killed, is the person future-you killed now still dead? If that question makes your head hurt, this is probably not the movie for you. But if that makes you want to dig in to even more questions about time travel and how it works in the universe of the movie, Looper is a nice ride through some geeky theory and some solid performances. I don’t know if everything this movie sets up about the way time travel acts makes sense, but it makes enough sense to let you enjoy the puzzle. The movie shaves down its interest in time travel to this one thing — contract killing. And so while you imagine that evil genius criminals might want to instead go back 100 years and start buying stocks, the movie doesn’t even worry about the mechanics of that. Here, time travel is simple: future guy appears, present guy kills him.
Filling in the space around that concept are the performances: Gordon-Levitt is strong as always. I don’t know that they needed to go to such distracting lengths to make his features look more like Willis’ (flatter nose, something about the upper lip), but it is kind of a nice touch. Willis gives his character just a tad more substance than usual, giving us a Joe who understands something about regret. Emily Blunt shows up in the movie’s second half as a woman running a farm and raising her young son, and she also does a good job making the character something more than just a tough-lady potential love interest.
So, yes, a farm — part of this movie takes place on, from what I gather, a farm in Kansas not too far from the big city run by gangsters. There are a lot of little details about this strange future — are they growing sugar cane in Kansas? what’s the story with the “vagrant riots” that are mentioned? why does big chunks of whatever city the movie is set in look bombed out? — that are never explained. We are left knowing that life gets suckier but not why. Since we’re already dealing with two futures (2044 and the 2070s), I found myself wanting more texture on at least one of them — even though I kind of respect the movie for not getting bogged down in exposition.
Leaving me wanting more is not a bad position for a movie to be in. Looper might be thinner on details than I liked (and yet also still overly long), but it is a solid amusement park ride through a well-worn sci-fi concept. B
Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Loopers is an hour and 58 minutes long and distributed by TriStar Pictures.