“Looper” is an elegant action movie with Emily Blunt stealing the show in a cast of seasoned scene stealers. It’s one of those movies that attracts a wide audience while, at the same time, by its very nature, you’d think would appeal only to an art house crowd. This film is written and directed by Rian Johnson who is known for artful work like, “The Brothers Bloom.” What is the magic formula that works here? Casting plays a big role, of course. From the get go you have three favorites: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt. And then you have the time travel theme that, like a moth to flame, despite the fact it promises no guarantees of true entertainment value, we seem to not get enough of.
Why this time travel flick and not another? There’s the twist: This one is about loopers! And this one pits Gordon-Levitt and Willis as the younger and older version of the same guy. Time travel is an invention of the future used by the mob. When the mob tires of someone, they toss their victim 30 years into the past where a hired gun, a looper, is ready to shoot to kill, no questions asked. That has been Joe’s job (Gordon-Levitt) which he’s ready to do even if it’s himself (Willis). The real big kick in the pants is that we know Bruce Willis is not going to go down without a fight. And, if anyone can outsmart the system, it’s going to be the older Joe.
Time travel stories are inevitably about changing something in time and dealing with the repercussions. The professor always says, in the most typical time travel movies, not to disturb anything, not to interact with anything! Well, in “Looper,” characters from the past, present and future are at war with each other! Then there’s the other old reliable: What if you could go back in time and stop something terrible from happening? When we reach that point, we lose some of the mystery of the film. But some things resist easy answers. That’s where Emily Blunt comes in.
There’s a moment in “Looper,” not having to do with gunfire or the threat of violence or imminent death. It is a truly unexpected little moment that cues us to something deeper. Emily Blunt has just completed a long day of chores on her house out in the middle of nowhere. She kicks back on the porch and relaxes. She opens an imaginary pack of cigarettes and pretends to have a smoke. It’s not too long before we’re right back into the tension of this finely structured plot. But, for that moment, we’re made a aware that here’s a character with a whole set of issues and reasons to need to find a way to cope with her life. She also happens to be a character that emerges as far more significant than anyone had imagined. The trick to a really good time travel story is to demonstrate that even a butterfly is important to the chain of events. Too many times in movies, the subject of the woman alone in the house is dismissed as just another butterfly. Not here and Ms. Blunt is up to the task.