Before the resplendent debut of the drawling Benoit Blanc in Knives Out and even the crowd dividing majesty of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson was already fiddling with cinema conventions with Brick, a crime noir epic that fused itself to the spine of a high school movie like a genre-bending parasite with impressive results. However in 2014, after a slight hiatus, Johnson produced what may be his his finest movie in the shape of Looper. A time travel sci-fi flick that hungrily absorbs such influences as Twelve Monkeys, Face/Off and Akira into its crime thriller carapase and yet somehow emerges, butterfly style, as a wholly original classic that tackles themes of identity, perspective and the paths taken in life while not skimping on some bullet spitting action.
A stellar cast, pitch perfect direction and a highly questionable eyebrow choice merge to give us arguably one of the best sci-fi efforts of the 2010s despite the troubling fact that no one seems to mention it anymore.


The year is 2044 and thirty years further into the future, time travel is not only possible, but is ridiculously illegal and is used as a way by crime syndicates to dispose of bodies as, thanks to modified tracking technology, the task is virtually impossible to pull off in 2074.
Sent back in time, bound, hooded and with gold bars strapped to their backs as payment, these poor bastards are immediated blown away upon arrival by hired executioners known as Loopers who have embarked on a contract that ends in 2074 when they will eventually be sent back in time themselves to have their “loop” closed with the business end of a shotgun.
One such Looper is Joe, a Looper who, while addicted to the fast life and narcotic eye drops, actually thinks I little further ahead than others of his kind and saves his gold bars to make sure the last thirty years of his life are comfortable (and drug fuelled) before his inevitable, preagreed murder at the hands of the mob.
However, one day, the guy who comes back through time to eat a shotgun blast is… him. Joe is understandably stunned by this turn of events and “Old Joe” manages to get the upper hand on his younger self and goes on the run, which is something that really makes the Looper’s handlers very twitchy. This means that Young Joe also has to keep his head down as a simpler way of disposing of of a fleeing quarry is to simply kill the younger version of the Looper, so to save his life, he’s going to have to end it.
However, Future Joe has a mission, to bring down the Rainmaker while he’s still a child, a super lethal criminal that’ll bloodily take over all the crime syndicates, order all the loops closed and causes Joe’s wife to die thirty years hence. So while this era’s Joe fights to preserve his present in the here and now, Future Joe fights to change a future he’s already lived – following me so far? But after the younger Joe stumbles on a farm owned by secretive single parent Sara, both Joe’s find that their motives and morals start to change.


One of the many one off sci-fi movies that popped up during the 2010s that really didn’t get the box office it really deserved, Looper is one of those films that hits that beautiful, beautiful sweet spot between action and concept that provides a genuinely gripping story while pumping your hungry brain with some funky, kick-ass concepts. The main one year is obviously having our main character square off with his own, future self who due to thirty years of differences and experiences has utterly different outlooks and morals and while there’s plenty of other of threads to be unpicked from Johnson’s impressively layered script, it’s the Joe Vs. Joe aspect that grabs you in a choke hold as refuses to let go. Young Joe – played by Joseph Gordon Levitt with a fake nose, distractingly dark eyebrows and a Willis scowl tattooed all over his mush – is self absorbed and money obsessed, willing to trade his shaky morals to obtain wealth in order to compensate for his squalid upbringing. Bruce Willis’ elder Joe, on the other hand has moved on, fully aware that all the drugs and money his younger self ruthlessly coveted gets him nothing in the end and instead is focusing on the more fulfilling role he played as a husband after leaving his life of crime behind as seen in an audacious and magnificent flash forward montage. Both men are willing to to kill in order to keep their lives exactly how they like them and a major theme of the movie is the fact that as the movie goes on, both men gradually swap roles from antagonist and protagonist in ways that’s utterly believable. After Levitt’s Joe meets Emily Blunt’s (typically excellent) farm owning mother and he gradually weans off hims self from the drugs he’s addicted to, he goes from unrepentant hitman to bonding with Sara’s insular and troubled young son while Willis’ Joe has found happiness with a woman Joe is destined to meet in China, but the very fact that he’s popped up thirty years into his own past to murder a crime boss in his infancy, is not only changing the very future he’s trying to preserve, but in order to do it he’s going to have to Sarah Connor children in order to achieve his goal causing his soul to deteriorate as severely as his hairline.


Both men are magnificent, with Willis giving an utterly ego free role (remember when he did those) by leading into his age and baldness as he subverts his good guys roles as his failing memory and desperation sees him resorting to going full Anakin Skywalker and thus subtly shifting over to the dark side. Levitt on the other hand forges through the fact that he looks nothing like Willis – the makeup doesn’t help an inch – and makes you buy it by successfully channeling the older actor and unleashing an impressive fusilade of squints, sneers, smirks and body language that maintains the illusion nicely and ends up being far more fun than the extensive CGI that allowed Will Smith to beat himself repeatedly (phrasing!) in The Gemini Man.
Johnson also uses his futuristic canvas to give us a lot of impressively underplayed stuff like the minutiae of the life of a man who willingly sign his life away in order to murder men from the future, the fact that telekinetics exist (Sara’s five year old son has the potential power of an A-Bomb), rocket cycles are as predictably pricey as they are cool looking and the stunningly ghastly death of a man’s future self when he starts losing body parts due to the extremity slicing torture his younger version is suffering.


A movie that makes sure it prioritises ideas and believable characterization just as much as it does gun blazing action (even gun twirling henchman get fleshed out), Looper is cracking story, extraordinarily well told that engages the brain as it pounds you into sci-fi euphoria with paradoxes, twists and some impressive performances that throw you winningly for a loop.


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