Time Travel Flies in ‘Looper’ Movie

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A MIND-BENDING THRILLER: Crime pays when you have do-overs, as time traveling assassin Joe, played by Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, finds out in “Looper.”

Angel Silva, Managing Editor

Crime and time travel are thrown for a loop in “Looper,” an intelligent sci-fi thriller revolving around a future where killing someone is as easy as sending them to the past.

Directed and written by Rian Johnson (“The Brothers Bloom,” 2008), “Looper” starts in the year 2044, in poverty-stricken, starkly class-divided America. The protagonist, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “The Dark Knight Rises,” 2012), belongs to the secretive brand of criminal assassins known as “loopers.” Their bounties are delivered from 30 years in the future to the present via time travel where a Looper then kills and incinerates the target, effectively erasing that target from existence.

With each kill comes payment in the form of silver bars, oddly reminiscent of the payment given to Judas in the bible. When a looper’s services are no longer needed, crime syndicates have each looper kill his future self, and is given a hefty gold bar severance package. If he fails, he will be erased, to put it nicely.

Joe’s good at his job, with an excellent kill rate and enough funds to retire as a wealthy man.

However, one day he finds himself having to kill his older self (Bruce Willis, “Moonrise Kingdom,” 2012), who traveled to the present bent on finding and killing the younger version of The Rainmaker, a human who in the future conquers the world and sends it into ruin. Old Joe escapes, and things hit the fan pretty quickly after that.

There’s plenty of action throughout the film, from people getting mauled down by machine-gun fire to a body shredded by telekinetic forces.

However, “Looper” isn’t a traditional action flick in the sense that it’s not all guns and bodies galore – the story and acting are well done for Johnson’s third attempt at the big screen.

Each character has a method to their madness, and in the world of time travel, there’s plenty of madness to go around. Old Joe’s unwavering resolve in his mission to save the future isn’t entirely selfless — he has a wife to protect 30 years from the present. The characters are developed well in a short amount of time (the film runs just under two hours) but it’s a shame that not much of their backstories are shown.

Where the beginning and end of “Looper” are dominated by action, it’s during the middle where the film shows its soft side through short love stories, both sensual and motherly. The mother-son development was the most emotionally charged one, followed by the story behind the relationship with Old Joe and his wife. Although engrossing, these vignettes feel rushed and unexplored.

One of the overarching themes of “Looper” is the idea of loops. There’s scenes and dialogue that connect with material shown throughout the film, forming a miniature story within the film.

It sounds rather confusing, but “Looper” doesn’t give you all the pieces to the story like most action films do — it’s a visual puzzle that audiences have to piece together from what’s onscreen and what the characters are saying in order to get the big picture.

For example, there’s a scene where a looper named Seth (Paul Dano, “Ruby Sparks,” 2012) fails to kill his older self. The audience sees the body of older Seth (Frank Brennan, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” 2012) change as present-day Seth is tortured, leading to the execution of both Seths within walking distance of each other.

Despite “Looper”’s near-future setting, the technology shown isn’t overly advanced as to make it unbelievable. Conventional cars still exist (although they’re powered by dirty solar panels instead of gas) and guns still use bullets, but cellphones are reduced to a glass iPhone-esque square and flying turbine bikes are the norm for the wealthy.

These little details help create a universe that audiences can feel comfortable suspending logic with, because it’s a future that looks adequately advanced for being 22 years away.

Although a great movie, “Looper” does have its minor flaws. Gordon-Levitt’s face was modified to look like Willis’ face with a false nose and makeup, making Gordon-Levitt’s expressions look flat at times.

A lot of details and backstory are left unexplained, such as the reason why loopers have to kill their older selves instead of other loopers taking those jobs, and what the extent of the Rainmaker’s devastation was.

Overall, “Looper” is a fast-paced, exciting film that rewards observant viewers with a masterfully crafted story and leaves audiences with plenty to ponder about even after the film ends.

“Looper” runs for 118 minutes and is rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality and nudity and drug content.

4 out of 5