Time travel paradoxes are not really so tough. In fact, as Looper unwinds, we find that time travel relatively light-weight stuff compared everything else that happens in the story. It’s a little bit like The Matrix, where you discover that a modestly talented hacker has been sent careening into Alice’s nightmare chasm.
Looper takes place in 2044, but this version of the future looks like '70s urban squalor with a splash of Studio 54. We get the sense that life is cheap in this brave old world, and that’s because just about everybody we meet is a killer, or a boss (Jeff Daniels), or an underling, or a stripper.
Joseph Gordon Levitt, Joe, is a well-paid hit man, but he looks and acts like a garden-variety punk. His job is to murder bad guys who have been sent 30 years from the future, when time travel has been discovered. They call these killers Loopers, but what they really are is trash men, since their job is to wait for the victims to appear, on schedule, bagged and bound, in a field. As soon as they appear, on a sheet and in their knees, a Looper blasts them with a blunderbuss. The Looper gets paid and the corpse is dumped into an industrial furnace.
Joe spends his free time hanging with other Loopers and taking exotic drugs with an eye-dropper. He dreams of going to France and leaving this life behind, but his French is atrocious.
Joe’s life takes a major turn when he finds out his next target is himself, Bruce Willis, thirty years older. This explains why Levitt has been wearing Willis’s nose and voice throughout the picture -- it doesn’t quite work but he gets credit for trying, and there’s a fun moment where Levitt checks his receding hairline in the mirror.
When Old Joe appears through time, on the death sheet, he knocks young Joe down and escapes execution, which is very bad business in his profession. Nevertheless, the two manage to meet in their favorite diner, both ordering identical breakfasts, and Old Joe tells him he’s come back in time to kill a bad guy, a Darth Vader level villain, who is also responsible for killing his wife. In the future he’s known as The Rainmaker, but in young Joe’s time, The Rainmaker is still only a kid. Old Joe doesn’t know which of three different kids he is, so his mission is to figure out which kid is going to grow to be The Rainmaker.
Got all that? Old Joe wants to stay alive so that he can kill three kids while young Joe and his entire organization are looking for him.
Meantime Young Joe, who is after all the real star of the movie, follows a lead to Kansas where they meet Sara (Emily Blunt) and his son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who live far from the funky end of Joe’s world in a rural farmhouse.
We learn that Sara is hip to Loopers, and it’s clear that whoever Sara and Cid are, they’re not typical farm folk. Sara is determined to send Joe away, and she shows him the mean end of an angry shotgun, but Joe and Sara eventually get a little friendlier and she tells Joe that she’s one of a handful of people to possess a modicum of telekinetic talent (TK). Mostly it means she can spin cigarette lighters in the air, though it never seems to occur to her that she could likely smoke the cigarette without using her hands, which would be a neat trick.
Willis is missing for the most part of the picture while the other bad guys are looking for him in the alleys and dark corners. Most of Willis's screen time is pure action.
And Joe is starting to like Sara and Cid while he’s protecting them. However, the Witness analogies go down the drain when we discover that Cid, who is something like ten years old, can throw telekinetic tantrums so fierce that Sara has to hide inside a safe room, which is literally a safe.
When Joe sees Cid go ballistic and wallpaper the room with the innards of an unfortunate visitor, it’s clear that Cid is the nascent Rainmaker Old Joe has been looking for, and when Old Joe arrives the story reaches its conclusion.
There are a lot of spoilers here that can’t be revealed, but when time travel is involved, especially time travel that imagines that two people can coexist at the same time, half the fun is arguing the logic, which, of course, can’t be argued.
Despite the variety of odd elements -- which include super-powerful mutant children, time travel, assassins, gangsters, psychedelic eye drops, and a little sex -- one might think that Looper is a straight action picture, but the best part of the film is the brief relationship that develops between Sara, Joe, and Cid.
Levitt doesn’t seem capable of making any missteps at this point in his career, Blunt is terrific, Pierce Gagnon is perfect in the part of the TK wunderkind Cid, Jeff Daniels is a Fagin figure who is equally vicious and charming, and Paul Dano plays a Looper-gone-bad who literally falls to pieces.
Looper is confounding and entertaining; it’s a piece of work, like Inception, Frequency, and any modern, smart science fiction pictures that never let the watch works interfere with the fun. - Henry Cabot Beck
Mr. Beck is a freelance writer, based in Arizona, who works for a variety of newspapers and magazines, most recently True West Magazine.