Time travel films are always a challenge to do right, which is why when a good and original one comes along it is not only a reason to celebrate, but also a reason to pay attention. And, to stretch that statement, Looper requires some attention… good time travel films are all about the mystery and paradoxes. Trying to figure it all out is part of the fun. The best ones will keep you guessing for as long as they can, but do it fairly. Looper fires on all cylinders in this regard. It is engaging, full of emotion, great fun, and a film you’ll likely want to see more than once. There is action in Looper (a lot of it), but it isn’t the focus of the story it is just a necessary part of the story. And at least one sequence is the most clever and disturbing action you have ever seen.
But Looper isn’t just clever story, it also has the advantage of some top talent. Levitt and Willis work great together, each adopting enough of the other’s mannerisms and speech patterns to believably create the necessary illusion that they are the same person. Subtle make-up and, I’m guessing, f/x enhance that even more. As Levitt’s first big release as the star, rather than supporting (Inception, Dark Knight Rises) this is also a milestone for his career. His previous films, while almost always worth seeing (500 Days of Summer, 50/50, Elektra Luxx, Brick, Mysterious Skin, etc.) were never given the push of a potential block-buster, though many did well critically and he has always been worth watching.
In addition to the top-line talent, there is a supporting ensemble of folks that each manage to stand out but never steal the screen, a compliment to each of them and the director. Interestingly to me, several, including the leads, have done other time travel or reality bending stints. Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau), Dillahunt (Sara Conner, 4400), etc.
Writer/director Johnson’s previous entries on screen were Brick and The Brothers Bloom. While Bloom was a delightful black comedy, Brick is a similarly mind-bending and wonderful film that is all about the story-telling (and also, as it happens, starring Levitt). Despite the temptation of the larger budget and f/x, Johnson managed to keep Looper from devolving into a crazy action movie intended for you to just go and turn off your brain and watch the pretty pictures.
In addition, with some very specific f/x and scene choices, Johnson expands the scope of his world radically with brushstrokes rather than long sequences. This is where you see his previous background of working with little or no money come into play. All of his visuals serve a purpose.
We had to wait a long time between Brick and Looper for Johnson to give us another story, but he is someone to watch. Like Nolan’s Memento, Looper is a calling card for the movie-going public to pay attention to.
By the way, if Looper catches you and you are looking for similar story quality, though admittedly lower budgets, Primer and Timecrimes have been the best pure time-travel films in recent memory outside of this entry. I recommend both, though neither is of the same scale and quality.