Time travel in film and its mechanics can be an obsessive exercise in storytelling. It's a complicated narrative device that is a logical nightmare for most screenwriters. Filmmaker Rian Johnson explores these complications, mostly successfully, in every way possible in the time travel thriller Looper.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a hitman in the year 2044, who kills people sent back in time. Time travel hasn't been invented yet in his present, but it will be thirty years in the future. This premise and its many complications are told very straightforwardly in the film. When Gordon-Levitt's Joe meets his future self who he must ostensibly kill, it sets off a chain reaction of action and drama.
Gordon-Levitt's performance is remarkable. He inexplicably channels a young Bruce Willis and his mannerisms just right erring on the sight of subtlety. It's easy to believe Gordon-Levitt and Willis are parallel versions of each other yet have each have motivations directly in opposition to one another.
The first half is near brilliant in how they explain the premise and worlds this dystopian future. The world building and landscapes constructed around a society of excess is thrilling. There is a montage shot in Shanghai that is breathtaking and is a great narrative device. The character themes of aging, one's self, time, and memory work on multiple levels. Johnson uses time travel and future and past selves as a metaphor for the "cyclical nature of violence". There are more than a few twisted references to other time travelling films including Back to the Future and the Terminator series.
Unfortunately, the second half of the film does a dramatic shift. It slows down considerably and gets into plot heavy mechanics where present and future character relationships come into play. The location moves to a remote farm along with Emily Blunt and the future becomes clearer. It's hard not to feel deflated after the sheer highs of the first half and its stunning construction.
Looper is creatively inventive and the inevitable time travel storytelling inconsistencies are purposely complex. Fully engrossing, Johnson achieves high marks in creating a smart, original story told with visual flourish and coaxing wonderful performances to craft a mind-bending thriller. Its story works just like all the elements of the film, on a constant, ongoing loop.
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