A word of warning for would-be cinema-goers: here, there be monsters. I’m not talking about clinched Hollywood CGI monsters (though Looper contains plenty of innovative special effects). I mean human monsters, casually and unfeelingly taking the lives of others. This palpable atmosphere of violence permeates the entire film, the populace of Kansas City in year 2044 having grown harsher, more callous. Those beneath a certain social/economic stratum are disregarded entirely. The average citizen (or perhaps merely those characters we happen to encounter during the film’s 118 minute runtime) seems to be entirely unconcerned with the concept of, for example, hitting somebody with a car, or shooting a vagrant that wanders into their property. Granted, the context of the movie is that of brutal mafia-bosses and their hired assassins, but the openness with which they operate is beyond shocking. It occurs to me now that Looper appears to have a complete lack of police presence of any sort, which may explain the rest of the backdrop.
Putting the ugly vibe aside, Looper is completely thrilling, and certainly swings for the fences consistently, not satisfied with coasting on an interesting premise as Bruce Willis’ 2009 disappointment of a movie Surrogates did. Then again, neither is he the focus of the movie; Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character completely and utterly in charge of every scene, channeling perfectly the swagger of young Bruce Willis. His own performance is considerably more tempered – with some reason, considering he plays a hitman in retirement. Both actors, of course, play Joe, a Looper, whose job is executing people sent to be disposed of from the future. When the future iteration of the crime organization Joe works for begins sending back the older versions of the loopers themselves to be disposed of, the young Joe becomes concerned. His fears are realized, when arriving at the location of his next murder, he is confronted with his older self. His moment of hesitation gives his future self time to escape the scene, leaving Joe in a disastrous position. The mafia is, naturally, displeased, and looks to dispose of both of the iterations of their former employee. As Joe seeks refuge with Emily Blunt’s character Sara, a single mother living on a farm, the young family’s seemingly idyllic, though simultaneously twisted lives are thrown into disarray too.
The performances in the film are great across the board. The before-mentioned actors all do their jobs, which is a tall order on its own. Even the supporting cast, however, shine in their scenes – Paul Dano, who has played to my mind exclusively likable characters in the past, is perfectly despicable throughout. Jeff Daniels as the boss is, as any terrifying father figure must be, simultaneously instantly amiable, and bone-chillingly cruel. Even the young Pierce Gagnon shows surprising range at the age of 5. All this is also in large part to the credit of writer-director Rian Johnson. The largely independent filmmaker’s writing really shines in the dialogue, as well as in concisely stating his overarching themes both through words and visuals.
The director has stated numerous times that the movie is about the notion of fixing a problem by finding the right person and killing them. Johnson unflinchingly takes us through to the logical outcome of both a character who has based his life around that policy, and the culture which in the movie seems to have adopted the idea wholeheartedly. Violence, of course, begets more violence, and some of the parts of the movie are beyond shocking (a certain scene of retroactive mutilation is particularly hard to shake).
If you are a fan of innovative science-fiction which is about something more than special effects, while simultaneously being completely thrilling, see Looper at once. Consider yourselves warned, however – if you are the type of person who cannot stand movie violence and simply would prefer to keep that out of their world, hey, it’s ok. We understand. Just be prepared to not understand half of what the rest of us talk about for the rest of the year.