Looper’s first scene is sparse, and a bit disorienting. A man dressed in black stands in a cornfield with a strange weapon and a stopwatch, waiting patiently in front of a plastic tarp. As the stopwatch ticks away towards an uncertain future, a kneeling figure abruptly appears on the tarp out of thin air, and is promptly blown away with the strange weapon. The man in black cuts open the dead guy’s clothes and removes a packet of silver bricks before taking the body and leaving as mysteriously as he arrived.
From that first jarring reel, Looper establishes itself as unpredictable. It mostly takes place in the near future – “mostly” because as a film with time travel as its underlying premise, it is rife with flashbacks, flashforwards, alternate timelines, and paradoxes. While the plot does wander from time to time, it is not lost, and the tightly written script keeps the audience from being overwhelmed by the ambition of its storyline.
As is explained almost immediately, time travel has been (or, more accurately, will be) invented. It is soon outlawed, putting it almost exclusively in the hands of organized crime, as no one else has the wealth or manpower to use it. Future crime syndicates apparently have some challenges with their old-fashioned business model, as technology makes it extremely easy for the police to solve crime, including murder. So, in a quite innovative approach, the crime bosses simply ship their troublemakers back through time to a looper’s tarp. The loopers are the present-day assassins of those future crime bosses, and dispose of each time traveler quickly and efficiently. They are paid handsomely for their trouble under the watchful eye of Abe (played perfectly and against type by a grizzled Jeff Daniels), a boss given a one-way ticket to the past to supervise both the loopers and the gatmen, the syndicates’ decidedly less competent enforcers. After each kill, the loopers celebrate with booze, drugs, women, and generous helpings of irresponsibility. The loopers get their name because of their ultimate fate – eventually, to protect their scheme, the bosses will find and send back through time any old loopers that have survived to the future. When a looper kills his future self and collects the precious gold bounty strapped to himself, his loop is closed, his contract terminated. He can enjoy the time he has left, as much as anyone can enjoy it when they know what’s eventually going to happen.
I will stop discussing the plotline of the film now, as to continue would be a disservice. Suffice it to say that a relatively simple conflict quickly balloons out of control and threatens to swallow up everyone in its wake, and I found myself throwing in with the reckless abandon of it all. The first part of the film, exploring the jaded, degenerate world of the loopers with a light touch, is a complete juxtaposition of the second half, which becomes increasingly dark and bleak. The performance of the actors is delicious, from the initial introduction to the main looper Joe and his juvenile nightly fête, to a rural farmer trying to raise a child in a world almost completely devoid of hope. I have come to expect base, escapist fantasy from science fiction, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Looper manages to mix tense action with strong characterization, subtle emotion, and a narrative that allows me to suspend my disbelief for just a couple of hours to revel in the gritty and substantive setting that has been created for it.
Looper almost effortlessly presents a decayed, depressing, seedy world past its prime, seemingly devoid of cops, legitimate authority, or any real morality. Unlike many aspiring and ultimately lacking sci-fi action flicks, desperate from before birth for sequels, Looper’s setting is flawless in its simplicity and its delivery. It does not ram its cheeky future slang down your throat. It does not paint the screen in a whitewash of CGI to hypnotize its audience. While time travel in fiction is no stranger to us, it is not the glib, practiced contrivance trotted out every few years by Hollywood. Looper is at its heart a race against time, but it would be a mistake to dismiss it as such out-of-hand. From its trailer, Looper could almost be discarded as a mildly cerebral sci-fi action film with the prerequisite guns and sex and delusions of grandeur, crying out for a straight-to-DVD release were it not for Bruce Willis. Instead, it turns out to be a smart, creative, and painfully human experience, and the best science fiction that has come along in years.
Written By Levi Van Tine