Looper is set in 2044; there are flying bikes around, and if you are not a fancy killer with slicked-back hair, you are probably eating out of the trash and wearing disgusting rags. Hookers are still the same, though, and some stupid men fall in love with them, wanting something more than a regular service. One such silly guy is Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is made to look like a younger version of Bruce Willis, with crumpled eyebrows, a hooked nose and a nascent smirk permanently stuck on his face. Joe is a looper, who kills people from the future, condemned to death by mafia goons (also from the future) who control time travel. They appear out of nowhere in an abandoned cornfield and must be destroyed immediately because getting rid of the body is very difficult in 2074.
Joe is also an addict, putting colourful drug-drops into his eye regularly, so each room he enters goes round and round. One day, something goes wrong, and the older version of himself (Bruce Willis) escapes from the execution scene, sending a lot of bad people to chase both versions of Joe.
The younger Joe goes to hide on a farm, where a plucky single mother (Emily Blunt) lives with her telekinetically talented son (Pierce Gagnon). There young Joe learns a lesson or two about time loops, and how people become who they are. The older Joe has to kill the child who is to become the Rainmaker (an evil criminal lord from the future who will murder Joe’s future wife), and he will stop at nothing to complete his mission. Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed Looper, doesn’t spare anyone here, and rivers, squirts and showers of blood fill the screen.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job portraying Willis, even though the makeup and especially the carefully painted red lips are annoying. Emily Blunt is as strong as ever, portraying a lonely mother who has been through hell, and finds redemption (she abandoned her son at first) in taking meticulous care of her difficult, sometimes cruel child, whom she is determined to raise to be good, kind and noble, like herself.
There are a few plot twists in this generally strong script that are worth the wait. In this respect Looper is a delight. In terms of genre, the dystopian elements are really engaging (city vs. country, omnipresent spying, advanced technology vs. shabby noir settings, scarcity of resources, etc.) while the telekinetic line was distracting, as if from another movie, even though necessary to explain the plot.
The critics have welcomed Looper with open arms. They say it’s the best sci-fi since Children of Men, also drawing comparisons to 12 Monkeys and The Matrix. I left the movie theatre with one urgent need: to take a shower.
Is it just me, or is the sight of a small child’s face entirely covered in fresh blood of a person they have just killed an absolute horror? Is it the fact that I was born, raised and still live in Belarus, a country that lost a quarter of its population in World War II (it’s one-third, according to other estimates), and was taught from a young age that taking someone else’s life is a heinous, ugly crime?
I agree with the critics that Looper is an intelligent, thought-provoking, philosophical sci-fi flick, which is rare. But the sight of a full-cheeked boy covered in blood (he is 10 in the movie, yet looks five) was psychological torture for me. What has that frame added to the story? Why was it necessary? Would the message of the movie change without it? Emotional porn much, Rian Johnson? All the way.
It is also funny to me, in the light of Lopper’s success with the critics, how Resident Evil: Retribution failed with this all-knowing bunch gloriously, even though it had all the same elements: dystopian setting, ridiculously convoluted plot, lots of blood, constant action, superhuman abilities, mother-child bond. It’s not controversial enough and it doesn’t pretend to be (even though the critics forgot that what Milla Jovovich did in terms of her actual physical involvement in tricks was impossible ten years ago). It’s the moments like these that I start to wonder whether I want the title ‘movie critic’ on my CV at all.
Verdict: Looper is smart and engaging. The acting, especially on the part of Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is superb. The violence, in the chase to be edgy and bloody enough for contemporary audiences, is ugly. Looper may have my attention but it doesn’t have my respect.