Looper falls somewhere between two other popular time travel hits. The most obvious of these is The Terminator (1984). Looper is almost the reverse of The Terminator where The Terminator had a present-day woman being hunted by a killing machine from the future seeking to eliminate her because of the child she will give birth to that will grow up to lead the resistance of the future, Looper turns everything on its head and has a present-day killer trying to eliminate his future self who has come back to kill a child that will come to dominate the future.
At the outset, Looper seems like another time travel film that promises to be an action film. The imagery brings to mind conscious association with Westerns and 1930s gangster films the Loopers carrying blunderbusses and referring to themselves as gat men, while the setting of the latter half consciously evokes the Depression dustbowl era. On the other hand, while Looper seems set up to be an action-chase movie, this rarely materialises. It is that relative rarity in this era of a film that is not driven by massive explosions and CGI effects the latter are there to create the portrait of the future but are largely unobtrusive but the turnings of its plot. There are shootouts and showdowns but these are rarely what Looper is about mostly it is a cerebral science-fiction film that hangs on good old-fashioned notions like causal paradoxes. The film it comes far closer to than The Terminator is the previous Bruce Willis vehicle Twelve Monkeys (1995), which wove a dextrous mandala of plot twists out of the problems associated with travel into the past and knowledge of the future.
Looper is not a perfect film. It is uneven at times, takes several peculiar doglegs of plot and changes of pace and tone that leave you wondering where it is going. It flaunts the rule of good conceptual science-fiction that a work should involve one major concept and be based around the extrapolations of that and piles other ideas on top of the basic time travel premise involving mutations and psychic superminds. The good part about this is that it is not afraid to go out on a limb and be unpredictable. It is one of the few multiplex films where you can say that you could never easily predict where it was going to go. It becomes to Rian Johnsons credit that he does take these chances, seems to staggers off course at times but manages to recover and wind them all together with considerable ingenuity.
This is a time travel film with brains. Most time travel films require a conceptual challenge but not all manage to stand up to it. There are those that simply have fun with the culture clash Back to the Future (1985) and Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure (1989); others that simply use it as an action scenario a host of films that came out in the wake of The Terminator; others that dumb down or avoid the possibilities The Final Countdown (1980), Millennium (1989). Not all of the films hold up to the challenge some works like Timecop (1994) leave massive continuity holes. Looper can be said to be one that does stand up well. There is a considerable excellence of writing to the scenes where Rian Johnson whips us through Joseph Gordon-Levitts future life as Bruce Willis in about five minutes flat or where Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis face off in a cafe where he tries to impart the wisdom of the years and how his life changes to his younger self. I also liked the conceptual cleverness of a film that manages to cast one character several years apart and have either version of himself play both the hero and the villain of the film, each operating with perfectly reasonable and rational reasons for doing what they do Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to eliminate his older self and preserve his life, while Bruce Willis wants to eliminate The Rainmaker and preserve the life he found for himself in the future.
Looking through the IMDB comments section for Looper, there seem a lot of haters for the film. One of the things they leap on is the claim that it doesnt follow its own logic and solve its paradoxes. These comments baffled me, for I felt for once this was a film that actually did think its continuity and causal paradoxes through. One bit that did bug me early on the same bit that bugged me about the slowly erasing photos in Back to the Future was the scene where the older version of Paul Dano runs through the streets, slowly collapsing as the gangsters cut off his fingers and limbs one at a time. If in the past his limbs had been cut off then surely they would always have been cut off in the future, his memories of this would also be changed and it would seem that that is always the way he would have been. However, this is very nicely justified in the cafe conversation between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis where Willis talks about having fuzzy memories that slowly coalesce into place as Gordon-Levitts actions are made. It is a logical and rather clever way of getting around the inherent paradoxes.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has done a fine job in emerging from the annoying spotty-nosed kid in tvs 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001) to become a serious actor in recent years, all as a result of Rian Johnsons Brick and other films like (500) Days of Summer (2009) and becoming a Christopher Nolan favourite in Inception (2010) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). He does a fine job as hero here even if the makeup designed to make him look more like Bruce Willis seems unnatural at times. Bruce Willis brings out the good old Bruce charms and is in familiar territory. Emily Blunt makes a good showing I was so used to her peaches-and-cream Englishness that I never guessed it was her having stepped into the role of a woman who looks like an Okie out of a Depression Era drama. It is also nice to see Jeff Daniels who became familiar in light comedy parts but has faded in prominence this side of the 00s take on a role that gives him something to sink his teeth into as an actor. The scene-stealer of the film gets to be the young unknown Pierce Gagnon as the spookily prescient child who makes a strong showing in the last third of the film.