Looper Review: Rian Johnson’s Time Travel Movie Is One Of The Year’s Best

Don't miss it.

By Josh Tyler | Updated

In Looper a man must kill himself in order to live, and for a lesser film that would be enough complication to hang an action movie on. Writer/director Rian Johnson isn’t content with making just another action movie, instead he takes his audience through twists and turns which transcend that already high-concept premise by ripping us through a world of impossible choices, and in the process creates one of the best movies of the year.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis in Looper.

In the distant future time travel will be invented and in a nearer future Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a hitman hired to murder mob victims sent back from the past. Things seem to be going pretty well for Joe until one of his victims turns out to be his future self. Old Joe, played by Bruce Willis, escapes his younger self’s clutches and goes on the run leaving Joseph Gordon-Levitt to chase him while doing the best possible impression of Willis.

Levitt’s Joe is cocky and sure of himself, unconcerned with whatever the future might hold. As Joe explains early on in the film, his job doesn’t exactly attract people who think ahead. Where others might hesitate Joe charges in, and when his life is on the line he’s not about to let his future get in the way of his present.

Levitt’s brilliant as a young Bruce Willis, but Willis is better than he’s been in a long time here too. Bruce plays his older Joe as a world-weary assassin who won’t let go no matter how much it hurts. Disgusted by the man he’s been, Joe is desperate to set things right, even if that means becoming something worse. Consequences be damned.

That’s just the start of a story which involves some of the most horrific and creative uses of time travel ever seen on screen. Looper has new ideas in a genre that hasn’t had any since the 2004 indie time-travel movie Primer.

Looper lets those new ideas speak for themselves, choosing a stripped down approach to the future over a flashy world full of flying cars. Johnson is confident enough in his story that he can let most of the movie’s action sequences take place in a sugar cane field, knowing that we won’t mind that he’s not dazzling us with special effects. His biggest gadget innovation is a futuristic shotgun called a blunderbuss, and that exists more as a plot point than something to sell toys with. You’ll be too caught up in the plight of Looper’s characters to wish for jetpacks.

This is science fiction doing what it does best. Looper uses big ideas to craft a wrenching story out of a man fighting himself for the right to live. Rian Johnson’s movie is full of surprises at every turn. Don’t miss it.