Director: Rian Johnson
Screenplay: Rian Johnson
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Summer Qing (Old Joe’s Wife), Tracie Thoms (Beatrix), Frank Brennan (Old Seth), Garret Dillahunt (Jesse), Nick Gomez (Dale), Marcus Hester (Zach)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2012
Country: U.S.Looper Blu-Ray
LooperWriter/director Rian Johnson’s Looper is founded, like the films of Christopher Nolan (who Johnson has explicitly noted as his cinematic role model), on a clever, instantly memorable premise and then proceeds to take us in completely unexpected directions. The premise of Looper is this: In the future, time travel has been invented and then immediately outlawed, although it is still used in secret by criminal organizations to assassinate people. Most of the film takes place in 2044 where men known as “loopers” stand armed and ready in a preset location at a particular time and await the arrival of a victim—bound and gagged and covered by a hood—sent back from the future to be shot and disposed of. Thus, the crime is untraceable because it takes place 30 years in the past. The assassins are known as “loopers” because, at some point, they have agreed to “close the loop” by killing their future selves.

The protagonist is a looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cool and detached killer who narrates with a sense of film noir-esque fatalism—and why wouldn’t he, knowing that his future self will some day be shot down by his own younger hand? However, when his future self (Bruce Willis) arrives, he hesitates, mainly because he is shocked to see his older visage uncovered, and he lets himself get away. This makes Joe the target of the criminal organization for which he works, which is run by the merciless Abe (Jeff Daniels) and employs dozens of hired killers who are all aping to prove themselves. Thus, Joe must stay alive long enough to track down his future self, who is intent on finding a crime lord known as The Rainmaker who he blames for the murder of his beloved wife (Summer Qing). If that doesn’t sound like a loopy enough plot, consider that Looper also involves characters known as TK’s (short for telekinetic) who share a DNA mutation that allows them to move objects with their minds. Joe’s fellow looper Seth (Paul Dano) is one such character, although his primary importance in the narrative is in illustrating the disastrous consequences for a looper who fails to close the loop.

Joe’s plight eventually becomes intertwined with Sara (Emily Blunt), a self-reliant woman who is raising her deceased sister’s young son (Pierce Gagnon) in an isolated farmhouse in the Kansas cornfields where Joe does his dirty work. In a less interesting film, Sara would simply play the role of the love interest, thus confirming Hollywood cinema’s infatuation with the double causal narrative structure (one narrative thread following a mission, the other following a romance). Instead, Johnson makes Sara key to the film’s second act, which introduces a new set of past/future ramifications that put Joe and his older self at complete odds with each other and confronts the viewer with perplexing philosophical questions about the nature of time and fate, particularly the conundrum of how to deal with an innocent who you know will turn out to be a tyrant.

With Looper, Johnson again proves to be one of the more fascinating and provocative, not to mention agile, of modern Hollywood directors. Having gained instant attention with Brick (2005), his indie debut that imported ’40s-era gumshoe dialogue and plot mechanics into a modern day California high school, he solidified his merits with The Brothers Bloom (2009), a fast and funny story about con artist brothers that was more Wes Anderson than John Huston. Looper allows him to tackle an all-new genre in science fiction, and as he previously did with film noir and slapstick comedy, Johnson makes it all his own. He is a visually inventive filmmaker whose style is decidedly eye-catching, but always grounded in plot and character; anything that might seem excessive is ultimately justified (with the possible exception of Bruce Willis’s machine-gun rampage near the end of the film, although that could very well be a subversive shout-out to the audience’s desire to see the Die Hard star mixing it up with heavy artillery once again). Gordon-Levitt, who also starred in Brick, gives an impressive performance that truly sells the idea that he and Bruce Willis are younger and older versions of the same character; he sports some facial prosthetics that give him and Willis a closer physical resemblance, but it is really Gordon-Levitt’s sly appropriation of Willis’s mannerisms that make it work.

Both old and young Joe are rugged, hardened professionals with everything to lose, and when they face off at a roadside diner, both the actors and Johnson play down the space-time ramifications by emphasizing their conflicting goals, one rooted in self-preservation and the other rooted in the desire for vengeance. Old and young Joe are ultimately self-serving, which is key to the film’s underlying emotional tug that draws us into the dawning of Joe’s self-actualization via self-sacrifice in a way that is genuinely stirring, rather than ponderous or treacly. Unlike so many other time-travel narratives that get bogged down in the paradoxes of their subject, Johnson neatly sidesteps the issues by ensuring that we are focused on the characters and their predicaments, rather than the narrative conundrums inherent in moving back and forth in time. The “how’s” in Looper quickly give way to a much more engaging involvement with the characters’ various fates, which takes us far beyond the film’s high-concept premise into the kind of emotional terrain that too often escapes even the best genre filmmakers.

Looper Blu-Ray + Ultraviolet

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
AudioEnglish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
  • Audio commentary with director Rian Johnson and actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt
  • Looper: From the Beginning” featurette
  • “Scoring Looper” featurettes
  • “The Science of Time Travel” featurette
  • 22 deleted scenes with commentary by director Rian Johnson and actor Noah Segan
  • Animated trailer
  • DistributorSony Pictures Home Entertainment
    Release DateDecember 31, 2012

    Sony’s 1080p presentation of Looper on Blu-Ray is consistently excellent, with a fine, well-detailed, nicely rendered image that maintains an impressive film-like quality (Rian Johnson shot on 35mm film and tried to create as many effects practically as he could, resulting in a film that overall looks less “digital” than most). Colors are strong and nicely balanced, and black levels maintain consistency throughout, with good shadow detail and delineation during the darker nighttime sequences. The film is interestingly split visually, with the first half being decidedly urban and dark, while the second half is more rural and much brighter. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack does its job admirably, giving Nathan Johnson’s unique score plenty of room and depth. The ambient noises and sound effects are effectively employed in the surround speakers, and there is lots of heft on the low end, especially when Bruce Willis pulls out the machine guns. Directionality is particularly impressive, especially once the characters get on their futuristic floating motorcycles and start zipping around.
    There aren’t a ton of supplements included on the Looper Blu-Ray, but there are more than enough to keep fans of the film busy for a few hours. The audio commentary by director Rian Johnson and actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt is a fun, informative listen, as they were all recorded together and seemed to have a good time reminiscing about the film and discussing its various narrative and thematic intricacies. There are also several featurettes: “Looper: From the Beginning” is a standard-issue behind-the scenes featurette, while “The Science of Time Travel” relies heavily on an interview with Brian Clegg, author of How to Build a Time Machine: The Real Science of Time Travel (2011), about the realities of time travel and how the film portrays it. I found the three mini-featurettes under “Scoring Looper” the most fascinating. Originally posted by composer Nathan Johnson on his web site, they take us inside the making of the film’s unconventional score, which relies heavily on recorded natural and mechanical sounds being fed into a computer and then turned into “instruments” that could be played. Also on the disc are 22 deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary by director Rian Johnson and actor Noah Segan, as well as an animated trailer that is composed of shots from the film rotoscoped in different animation styles.

    Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    James Kendrick

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