In the futuristic action thriller Looper, time travel will be invented - but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When ...
Rating: R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content
Length: 118 minutes
Released: September 28, 2012 Nationwide
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Bruce Willis, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
MIAMI — Before he made his debut with "Brick," his award-winning 2005 film noir set in a high school, director Rian Johnson already had the idea for "Looper" down on paper.
"It was a three-page script for a short film that I ended up never shooting," he says. "I wrote it about 10 years, and it had been sitting in a drawer for a while - just the basic sci-fi premise of the mob in the future sending people back in time to be executed by hit men in the present."
After directing the 2008 drama "The Brothers Bloom" and two episodes of TV's "Breaking Bad" (including the controversial "Fly"), Johnson finally got to make his time travel adventure, and the central idea remains intact. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also starred in "Brick") as Joe, a hit man living in Kansas in 2044. Time travel hasn't been invented yet, but it will be in the future. When the mob wants to execute an enemy, the target gets sent back in time to a cornfield, a bag over the head to conceal identity. Joe is waiting there with a shotgun.
It's dirty work but easy and profitable, until Joe's latest target shows up: An older version of himself (Bruce Willis), who has for some reason been sent back for execution.
One of the many twists of the time travel genre that "Looper" explodes is the notion laid out in countless previous films: If someone were to travel in time and meet themselves, the resulting paradox would cause the universe to implode.
Instead of wasting screen time explaining away the repercussions of such a meeting, "Looper" disposes with the holes in its plot in a quick scene at a diner in which the two Joes decide not to dwell too much about the impossibility of their situation.
"I should point out that we're not the first movie to do this," Johnson says with a laugh. "In 'Back to the Future 2,' old Biff and young Biff met each other, and the world didn't end. So there's that.
"But yes, when I was writing the scene, I was figuring out how to tame this time-travel element and not let it take over the movie. That's why I'm so in awe of movies like 'Back to the Future' or 'Primer' or '12 Monkeys,' any movie that figures out a way to deal with time travel, because it's a real beast, and it has so many repercussions. I was frustrated for a while, until I decided all that stuff doesn't matter. You get to a point in the narrative where to stop and explain all this stuff would be so cumbersome. Hopefully by that point, the audience isn't thinking about those things anyway. So having Bruce tell Joe, 'I don't want to talk about time travel, because then we'll be here all day drawing diagrams and stuff' takes care of it. I also think people have seen enough time travel movies by this point that they're very savvy."
There is a lot more to 'Looper' than a simple chase film - we haven't even mentioned the telekinesis yet - but one of the most startling things in the movie are what Willis' Joe will resort to in order to change the past so he no longer needs to execute himself, including a shocking act most stars of his caliber would never agree to perform, even if it happens off-screen.
"I totally expected there to be a big discussion with Bruce about that scene," Johnson says. "But the only discussion we had was how excited he was about the extreme places this character went to. He wasn't apprehensive about it, and he wasn't protective of his movie-star image, either. I think that's part of what turned him on to the project - the rawness and the desperation of his character. He's really a great actor, and he was 100 percent into the role. Thank God I was able to talk him into doing that!"
Gordon-Levitt spent three hours in the makeup chair each morning donning subtle prosthetics and make-up to help him resemble a younger version of Willis. The effect is initially startling - you know it's Gordon-Levitt playing the part, but he looks so different - but it ultimately helps sell the illusion that the two men are playing the same man.
The actor says he remembers Johnson talking about "Looper" with Johnson as far back as the filming of "Brick" and being intrigued by the moral complexity of the piece.
"He wrote the part specifically for me, which is the first time someone has done that," Gordon-Levitt says. "The first time he showed me a draft of the completed script was two years ago. Normally you get the script a few months before shooting, so it was unusual to be involved with a movie like this from such an early stage. It's a really smart story about how violence begets violence. People do horrible things, but it's never actually as simple as good guys and bad guys. Real life is much more complicated than that."