Though Rian Johnson‘s Looper hit theaters fewer than 5 years ago, it is nonetheless a surprise that it took me this long to track it down. As a fan of the director’s 2009 con-man dramedy The Brothers Bloom, and an admirer of 2006’s high school noir Brick, it was silly that I had never made the time for his most well-reviewed film, 2013’s Looper, an adult sci-fi/time travel story starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt. However, with the teaser trailer for Johnson’s next film, the small indie film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, recently being released, it seemed like the right time to finally catch up with the future-set thriller.
I am very glad that I did. Looper is one of the rare sci-fi movies that matches its cerebrality with well-earned thrills. It starts with an interesting premise: time travel exists in the “future” (the movie exists in 2044 and time travel exists years after that reality) and, though it is illegal, some shady people have access to it. Since it is difficult to kill people and dispose of their bodies in that future (trackers and such, you know), these shady folks hire “loopers” in 2044 to act as past hitmen. They meet at a certain spot at a designated time and kill the man or woman that shows up and then dispose of the body. Once loopers decide they are done with their job, they “close their loop,” receive a lot of money, and then have 30 years to live before they are sent back into the past to be killed by their former self. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a looper named Joe who witnesses what happens to his good friend (played by Paul Dano) when his friend comes face-to-face with his future self and cannot quite pull the trigger. The outcome is not pretty. So, when Joe lets his future self escape death, he tries to “close his loop” before his employer can catch up with him. What follows is an interesting rumination on time travel but, more importantly, a smart, well-made action movie that poses thorny ethical questions and invites the audience to think through them.
One of the most interesting aspects of Looper is the way the movie sets up its creative premise and lets it move like clockwork for the first half of the movie or so and then pivots at around the midway point into something a little more introspective and a little more thematically resonant. The greatest strength of the film is the way the sci-fi (and even some fantasy-like) elements cohere into something moving in the final few scenes. Rian Johnson’s gift as a screenwriter is surprises that feel less like WTF twists and more like organic left turns that deepen what came before. That is what excites me about seeing his take on the Star Wars universe. Though he’s obviously beholden to higher-ups, I can only imagine the ways in which his script will add layers to the events and characters that we met in The Force Awakens. If Looper is any indication, Rian Johnson’s gift for erudite but populist science-fiction is exactly what the Star Wars movies need in this eighth chapter.
Though I have already expended a large amount of words tiptoeing around this: if you have a chance, see Looper. Even if you have never seen Rian Johnson’s films and have no interest in Star Wars, don’t make the same mistake I made and ignore the glowing reviews all around you.