© 2012 Ray Wong

Time travel stories are difficult to pull off -- either it is too implausible, or it's too predictable. Granted, nobody has ever time traveled before (as far as we know) so everything is up for speculation. Still, some logic and rules must be followed. In that regard, Looper does a good job setting up those rules to present us with a story that is more about moral choices than time travel itself.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is part of a group of professional assassins called Loopers because they only kill people who are sent back from the future. As he explains, time travel hasn't been invented yet, but in 30 years it will be, and it will be immediately outlawed. Only that a small group of criminals will get hold of that technology and profit from it, by sending their victims to the present to be killed and destroyed (so no traces will be found since the body does not technically exist in the present). His boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) is sent from the future to run the operation.

There is only one catch, however. When the Looper's contract is up, they have to "close the loop" so they won't create a time-space paradox. What happens is that the older Looper will be sent to the present, so the younger Looper will kill him off in exchange of four bars of silver. Basically it's a 30-year retirement, and then you're dead. Joe knows his time will come soon, and he's been saving half his earnings so he can retire comfortably for the next 30 years, preferably somewhere in France.

When his friend and fellow Looper Seth (Paul Dano) fails to kill his older self, Seth (and his older self) is hunted down like a dog. From Seth, Joe knows that someone in the future has taken control and killing off all the Loopers. Sure enough, old Joe (Bruce Willis) is being sent back to be terminated -- but because the younger Joe has the knowledge of "plan," (don't worry, it's all explained in the movie), old Joe manages to escape. It turns out that old Joe knows the possible identity of the future mastermind and is determined to kill him in the present, so to change his own future. Young Joe must track down old Joe and finish him off, before the other Loopers find them both.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush) goes through a daily 3-hour makeup that makes him look like a younger version of Bruce Willis. Other than the physical resemblance, he also successfully impersonates Willis' mannerism and personality while making the character his own. Meanwhile, Willis (The Expendables) is playing a different version of his downtrodden tough guy persona. Still, there is certain synergy and collaboration between the two actors that we can believe they are the same person. By and large, they have succeeded.

Emily Blunt (Salmon Fishing in the Yeman) plays a farm owner and young mother, Sara. She shows a rougher side of her that has so far not been present in her recent roles. Pierce Gagnon does a good job as her precocious son. Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks) has a very small role but he makes the best of it. Noah Segan (All About Evil) tends to overact in his one-dimensional role as a Looper, but Jeff Daniels (Quad) compensates with his solid portrayal as the ringleader.

Written and directed by Ryan Johnson (The Brothers Bloom), the screenplay is intriguing in terms of premise and also execution. The story has a gritty feel to it, depicting a near-future dystopia that is both disturbing and fascinating. The tone reminds me of various movies ranging from Bladerunner to Time Cop to Memento. There is a great central mystery, and the plot keeps us guessing until the end, only revealing information and clues as they are relevant. I particularly like the characterization of Joe (both young and old, and how the character has changed in 30 years) and Sara. There is certain depth that is atypical in action-thrillers. The sci-fi aspect of the story is somewhat trippy and requires a good dose of suspension of disbelief. Like I said, time traveling is a tricky subject, but I think Johnson has successful set up the parameters and rules early on so the rest of the story can make sense.

Johnson's direction is precise and effective. While it's sci-fi, the production is reality-based and the special effects are not very sophisticated. But that's the point: it may be a sci-fi thriller, but it's also a morality and personal drama that is based very much in reality. Knowing what we know about the future, which path will be choose? Would we accept our fate, or would we try to change it at the expense of others? That's the central moral question, and the ending answers it perfectly.

Looper is a thought-provoking, gritty sci-fi thriller with a nice dose of drama. It's not without its flaws and could have been better. But with solid performances from the actors and an intriguing premise that ends unexpectedly, it will certainly throw an enthusiastic viewer for a loop.

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Summer Qing
Director: Ryan Johnson
Writer: Ryan Johnson
Distributor: FilmDistrict
MPAA Rating:  R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drugs
Running Time: 118 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 8
Production - 8

Total - 7.7 out of 10.0 

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