Good science fiction always manages to keep its humanity front and center while letting the gee-whiz factor of killer robots, alien planets, or damn, dirty apes color in the background.
It is important to mind the details as holes in plausibility can deflate a sci-fi flick at warp speed; however, if you spend too much time explaining yourself you risk losing your audience. We don’t care how a lightsaber works, we only care that it looks cool.
In the very good science fiction film “Looper,” Bruce Willis is sent back in time, where he is confronted by a younger version of himself played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. About a third of the way through the movie after explaining the basics of their situation, Willis angrily responds to a question from his younger self regarding the finer details of time travel by slamming his fist on the table and yelling “It doesn’t matter!”
It was at this point I knew that “Looper” had both its head and its heart in the right place and that the rest of the movie was going to live up to the thrilling, tense, gritty, thoughtful, and surprising promise laid out by the first 45 minutes of the film.
We first meet Gordon-Levitt in the in the quasi-dystopian, near-future of the 2040s. Under a mound of surprisingly effective Bruce-Willis-resembling-makeup he plays Joe, a hard-nosed, drug-addicted tough guy in the employ of a crime syndicate.
Thirty years into his future, time travel has been invented and immediately rendered illegal. But as you know, if time travel is outlawed only outlaws will have time travel.
The mafia controls time travel and uses it primarily to dispose of any unwanted persons. They send the offending troublemakers back in time where assassins like Joe, dubbed “loopers,” shoot them and dispose of the bodies in a clean and impossible-to-prosecute manner.
To preserve these perfect crimes, each looper operates with the knowledge that he will one day have to close his loop and execute his future self, after which, he is given a hefty paycheck and set free to enjoy the next 30 years of his life.
As Joe quips, “It’s not a job that attracts a lot of forward-thinkers.”
But when the time comes for Joe to close his own loop, his future self in the form of Willis gets the drop on him and escapes. This puts both old and young Joe on the run from the mob, led by a casually ruthless Jeff Daniels.
Young Joe doggedly pursues his older self, intent on maintaining his good standing in the criminal underworld at any cost.
“Looper” was written and directed by Rian Johnson who made his filmmaking debut with the brilliant and moody high-school noir film “Brick,” which incidentally also starred Gordon-Levitt.
Johnson is a master of mood and his movie percolates with tension and regret, especially later in the film when a young Joe seeks refuge at the farmhouse of a hard-edged, soft-bodied single mom (Emily Blunt) and her troubled son (Pierce Gagnon).
More than just being atmospheric, “Looper” also delivers some awesome action sequences and novel plot twists. Not to mention a scene that boasts one of the most inventively gruesome uses of time travel logic ever put on film.
This is a movie that sticks with you and is fun to talk about after the fact. It’s not perfect; there are some leaps in logic and puzzling motivations that crop up now and again, but it is satisfying and effective.
Willis and Gordon-Levitt are both great here and really humanize their character, a not entirely likable guy, making “Looper” a story of Joe’s redemption with some nifty time travel stuff thrown in for flavor. That’s the recipe for some tasty sci-fi.
“Looper” is rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity, and drug content.