By Greg Vellante
---- — Among the many great scenes in “Looper,” one of the best moments consists of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe sitting in a diner across from his older self (Bruce Willis). With an impressible make-up job and performance, Gordon-Levitt looks like he could be a past version of Willis, and Willis a future version of Gordon-Levitt.
Joe is a highly trained killer called a “Looper” in the year 2042. When the mob wants to get rid of somebody 30 years into the future, they send the person to people like Joe, who kill and dispose of the body so there is no longer any trace of the individual in the future.
Like most contracts, however, Joe’s eventually expires. Then he must enter the process of “closing your Loop,” requiring him to kill his future self, collect a generous payday, and enjoy the next 30 years of his life.
Joe’s slight hesitation upon Old Joe’s arrival leads to the latter’s escape, and the former’s desperate pursuit to ultimately kill his older self and close his loop. Old Joe has completely entirely different plans.
Back to the diner, though. In one of the rare moments “Looper” gives its audience a chance to breathe, it also makes us laugh. The dynamic back-and-forth between Gordon-Levitt and Willis is grand.
“I don’t want to talk about time travel,” Willis says, as Gordon-Levitt questions his presence. “It doesn’t matter.”
Perhaps this understanding of the triviality of time travel — a sci-fi fantasy — is what makes “Looper” one of the best science fiction films ever dealing with the concept. It explains just enough, and leaves just enough for the viewer to take home. Unlike many films of this genre, “Looper” actually trusts its audience to think on their own.
And my, there is a lot to ruminate on here. When “Looper” isn’t wowing with its remarkable visual effects, slick style, and electrifying pace, the film also rises to the occasion of being the smartest blockbuster of the year. Big, bold, brainy, and ultimately brilliant, “Looper” is confident filmmaking that knows which targets to set its sights on from the get-go. It strikes them all — bull’s-eye, dead center.
Writer/director Rian Johnson, whose impressive 2005 debut “Brick” was one of my favorites of the decade, creates a landmark science fiction film in “Looper.” This film will accompany discussion of the genre for years to come, possibly even decades.
In its approach to time-travel, “Looper” is as smart and developed as Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys,” with the weighty, futuristic emotion of “Children of Men.” The film has its influences, but sticks the landing primarily for being awe-inspiringly original. This movie is drenched with innovation.
“Looper” has the capacity to floor you, suck you in, and most surprisingly, move you into a meditative state.
Like most great science fiction, the film is layered with subtext, thought, and a lot to say about time, inherent good and evil, and the possibility of change. Many science fiction films have the brains, but “Looper” masters the winning combination of intelligence and heart.