Like many who saw it, I fell in love with Rian Johnson's directorial debut, 'Brick.' Unfortunately, I found his sophomore effort 'The Brothers Bloom' sorely lacking. He has directed two episodes of 'Breaking Bad' since then, which restored my faith in him – especially when I listened to the commentary on his season three episode of 'The Fly.' Apparently, Johnson had given a few of the cast and crew copies of his screenplay for 'Looper.' (Mind you, this was prior to actually shooting 'Looper.') Each 'Breaking Bad' person participating in the commentary who read it raved about how brilliant it was. Those who hadn't read it seemed jealous and even a little hurt that Johnson hadn't given them a copy to read. Having now seen 'Looper,' I can attest to the awesomeness they described.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe. In 2044, time travel has not yet been invented, but will be in 30 years. At the time that it's invented, it is nearly impossible to dispose of a murdered body without getting caught. So, crime syndicates employ people from 30 years in the past - 2044 - to dispose of the bodies for them.
Try to stay with me. When a "mark" is sent back to 2044, a "looper" (a.k.a. assassin) stands in a specific place waiting for a mark to be sent back through time to that specific moment, appearing before him out of thin air. Once the mark arrives, the looper instantly blasts him with an insane shotgun, he removes the payment (silver bars) strapped to the mark's back, and dumps the body into an incinerator. The looper has just killed and disposed of a body that doesn't even exist yet. At one point in a looper's career, his payment - strapped to the back of a mark - will come in the form of golden bars rather than silver. This is called a "golden payday" or "closing the loop," and it signifies the end of the looper's contract/career. He is now free to do whatever he chooses – but only for 30 years. Should the looper remove the shroud from the dead final mark's face, he will find a 30-year-older version of himself. The syndicates of the future kill the aged loopers to tie up all loose ends. This allows the syndicates to stay clean and the loopers to have 30 free years to blow their small fortunes and live however they would like.
When Joe's time comes to close the loop, Young Joe sees the mark and knows that something is not right. In a moment of hesitation, he pauses, giving Old Joe (played by Bruce Willis) the opportunity to get away – which is not a good thing. We see this same thing happen to another looper in the beginning of the film, so when we get to the point where Old Joe gets away, we know just how bad Young Joe's scenario is.
I have tried to keep my synopsis basic (and spoiler-free), but 'Looper' gets quite complex. If you try your best to keep up and follow along as the film progresses, you will be fine in the end.
Although 'Looper' is a studio film with a mainstream-friendly science fiction concept and well-known cast, the execution features many experimental and indie elements that are very refreshing. It hits the ground running, but I fear mainstream moviegoers may be disappointed by the pacing in the second half. The film doesn't hesitate to take its time developing a solid story and characters. It's methodical and well thought-out, leading up to a fantastic ending and offering plenty of "new" things to pick up on with subsequent viewings.
Yet as much as I enjoyed 'Looper,' it's not a perfect movie. There's something in it that could have been done better. I'll refrain from explaining in detail because it's very spoilery subject matter, but a plot point in the second half is too familiar and played-out. An original concept like this deserves just a bit better, but even as-is, this personal nitpicky nuisance leads up to the climax (which I love), so I can't completely dislike this choice.
Let me close with a warning that, after the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, really needs to be known. Minor Spoiler Alert: 'Looper' features some violence against children that many people will find highly disturbing. Content like this doesn't typically make it into mainstream movies (as Josh Zyber points out, with the exception of 'The Hunger Games'). Be advised. End Spoiler. If you go into 'Looper' with the knowledge that it's not wholesome and that it has been rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity, and drug content, then I don't see why the warning would deter you or the content upset you.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony has placed 'Looper' on a Region A BD-50 in a single-disc blue Vortex keepcase that slides vertically into a cardboard slipcase. The black lettering of the title on the slipcase features slightly raised smooth lettering. Included inside the keepcase is a slip of paper with a code that unlocks an Ultraviolet copy of the film. When the Ultraviolet slip and the disc are removed from the case, an image from the film that has been printed on the back of the cover art sheet becomes visible through the keepcase. When you place the disc into your player, after a quick load screen, a bunch of skippable videos play – a Sony vanity reel, an advertisement for Ultraviolet, and trailers for 'Parker,' 'Premium Rush' and 'Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.' If you have to stop the disc mid-movie, upon starting the disc up again, you will be prompted to "resume playback" from where you left off.
'Looper' has been given a slick 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's presented in the film's original anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I can easily see this disc making most Blu-rays from the future very jealous.
The picture quality is exceptionally clear. If you didn't know any better, you would swear that 'Looper' was shot digitally as opposed to film. This crisp quality allows for details to make themselves apparent – no matter how dark the scene might be. The use of light, darkness and shadows is perfected by unwavering contrast. Black levels are exceptional, creating deep voids where shadows can be concealing anything.
I didn't notice how strong the use of color (or lack thereof) was until re-watching 'Looper' on Blu-ray. The color pallete is mostly neutral, consisting of natural earthtones and muted colors. There are only two elements that cause for vibrant colorization: wealthy characters and lens flares – both of which are directorial decisions. Upperclass clothing, possessions and locations are about the only objects that warrant bright colorization in the dingy, rusted and corroded world of this unfriendly future. In the eleventh minute of the film, we get our first big lens flare. (Don't worry, there aren't all that many compared to a Michael Bay movie.) These flares cause brilliant horizontal streaks of bright whites and oversaturated blues and purples. I initially assumed that this was an error that came about during the transfer to Blu-ray because I didn't remember noticing it during my theatrical screening, but Johnson references it during his theatrical commentary (which is different from the Blu-ray commentary and was recorded long before the Blu-ray existed. I will explain more about it in the special features section). Almost all lens flares carry this oversaturation of color as they are meant to.
Aliasing, banding and artifacts are absent, as are edge enhancement and DNR. That being said, the most minute amount of digital noise can be seen in the oversaturated lens flares. Aside from that, 'Looper' features nearly flawless video quality.
'Looper' carries a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. This is one of those strong mixes that sounds great when you listen to it, but becomes even better the more you learn about it. Digging into the special features will let you know what I mean.
Almost all of the sounds in 'Looper' are unique and unconventional. This includes the sounds that make up the film's score. Knowing exactly what you're hearing only makes the audio sound even more impressive when it's mixed and spread throughout all the channels. Imaging is seamless and all sounds – be it vocals, effects or scoring – are dynamically mixed. There is one specific scene that exemplifies all aspect of the audio's greatness. When a hand cannon goes off in a small concrete room, the echo bounces around the room with perfect imaging like the ricocheting bullet. Bass is deep and resonant, occasionally using effective LFE. During this scene, my carpeted theater room suddenly turned into a loud and echoey concrete box.
I only have one complaint with this whole mix: the vocal track has the tendency to drop to low levels that caused me to bump up the volume quite a bit. A few of these instances even occurred during scenes that were otherwise silent. Aside from that, 'Looper' sounds great.
'Looper' was one of the most creative and original films of 2012 and has been given a solid and worthy Blu-ray release. The film offers a unique glimpse into a dreary futuristic world. The time travel concept is used in a way that has never been done before, pitting a our central character against an older version of himself from the grim future. 'Looper' revolves around a science fiction concept, but it's a human story at its very core. It's edgy and gritty, just like the future portrayed onscreen. Every aspect of the film's production is noteworthy, and the Blu-ray release is equally strong. The audio mix is great and the video quality is nearly perfect. Increasing the value of this Blu-ray is a beefy assortment of special features that further your involvement in the world of the film. Although the making-of featurette is brief, it introduces each of the noteworthy aspects are explained in high detail in the commentaries. If you can handle an adult – meaning R-rated – high concept drama that just-so-happens to include a great amount of intense action, then 'Looper' is highly recommended.