Mob hitman Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) executes people who are sent from the future, where it’s easier to send someone back through time than it is to kill them. One day, while waiting for his next victim, his own future self (Bruce Willis) emerges, after traveling back to stop the Rainmaker (Pierce Gagnon), a mobster with super-telepathic powers who has taken control 30 years from now.
Rian Johnson’s first foray into sci-fi is remembered by some (including me) as a smart and exciting film, but on a second watch it is neither. It’s essentially a reworking of Terminator, but the aim is to kill a future villain as a child rather than saving a future hero. But as the Terminator franchise has shown, it’s better to keep the time-hopping elements simple or you enter an endless web of confusion and contradiction.
Looper‘s overly serious tone sets it up as a smart exploration of its theme, but the story’s lack of consistent logic is compounded by being a veritable store of convenience. It spends a lot of time on dense plot exposition, but at the end of it we’re still left with unanswered questions, including which Joe we’re meant to root for – the hitman or the child killer.
But the big problem is the pacing. In the first half hour mighty Joe Young finds the future Rainmaker and we establish why old Joe, let’s call him Biden, has come back through time. Then nothing happens for an hour while we wait for the two to come face-to-face in the inevitable final confrontation. And when the long-awaited scene does happen it’s crushed by its own contradictions.
This intervening time is spent with Joe Young waiting on the farm with the infant Rainmaker so he can kill Biden when he comes for him. This gives him the opportunity to get close to Rainmaker-maker Sarah Corleone (Emily Blunt). Meanwhile Biden kills off some secondary and tertiary characters in inconsequential filler.
So the story isn’t up to much, but the real highlight is Gordon-Levitt as a younger Bruce Willis. He perfectly captures Willis’s expression (singular) and mannerisms, with the help of some ingenious prosthetics. It’s a perfect example of how an actor doesn’t need to look exactly like the person they’re playing, if they can successfully capture their essence. He’s actually a better Bruce Willis than Bruce Willis. Although that is a pretty low bar.
If this film was made now it would almost certainly be done with CGI, Gemini Man style, so it’s good to see how well it can be done with traditional methods. But as films about time travel and telepathy go, it falls well short of X-Men: Days of Future Past, and is in dire need of some Levitty. Slow and silly, you’ll need a Looper scooper to clean this one up.