It's the year 2044 and America is in shambles. Economic collapse has led to social breakdown. Cities teem with desperate refugees, gangs of vicious vagrants roam the countryside, and organized crime has asserted itself as the law of the land.
Street transactions require precious metals and Chinese currency. The cops and the criminal czars work together openly. Drugs are cheap, powerful and ingested through the eyeball. On the bright side, about 10 percent of the population is now telekinetic.
These are the spooky dystopian details we get, in glimpses and flashes, throughout the excellent sci-fi thriller Looper, new this week to DVD and Blu-ray. While the main storyline is good, pulpy fun — a time traveling gangster squares off against his younger self — it's the stuff in the corner of the frame that intrigues. As it ambles along, Looper casually tosses off enough gonzo sci-fi notions to power a dozen other films.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt headlines as mob killer Joe Simmons. As mafia jobs go, Joe has an easy gig. Gangsters from the future use illegal time machines to zap their victims into the past, from the year 2074 to Joe's timeframe, in 2044. Joe simply arrives at the designated time and place, shoots the bound and gagged prisoner, then gets rid of the body. (Thanks to advances in biotechnology, corpses are hard to clandestinely dispose of in 2074.)
It's an efficient system for everyone involved until the day Joe is asked to kill his future self, ported back 30 years and played by Bruce Willis. The existential ramifications being what they are, the two eventually arrange to meet in an abandoned diner. Here, old Joe schools young Joe on the futility of trying to figure out temporal loops: "I don't want to talk about time travel, because then we're going to be here all day making diagrams with straws." This amounts to coded instructions from the director to the viewer: Don't worry about it.
This is the film's smartest move. By avoiding the logical tangles of the time paradox element, Looper is free instead to explore the fascinating characterization aspects of the premise. Writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick) poses the question: What if your hero and your villain are the same guy, separated by 30 years of the hard-knock life?
Looper is squarely in the tradition of cerebral science fiction films like Blade Runner, Children of Men and director Kathryn Bigelow's underrated 1995 cyberpunk thriller Strange Days. As he's already demonstrated in fare like Inception, Gordon-Levitt is an ideal actor for this sort of story. He has the future-noir antihero thing down cold. Here, he even adds a playful layer by subtly incorporating a low-key Bruce Willis impersonation.
Watch for supporting turns by Emily Blunt as a hardscrabble homesteader, and Jeff Daniels as a lethally mellow crime kingpin. Looper takes a few ill-advised turns toward the end, but overall this is an admirably tight script in a genre which seems to encourage bloated sloppiness. (I'm looking at you, Prometheus).
Extras on the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack include a director's commentary track, deleted scenes and several featurettes on various aspects of the production.
The final scenes of Looper suggest that Joe's actions, in 2044, might have rather profound consequences for the future. And since that future includes time travel technology, Joe's actions might indeed have ramifications for his past. Or maybe even our present. What I'm saying is — hey, Rian Johnson, how about a sequel?
Also New This Week:
Slow going because of the holidays, but if you're (A) absolutely desperate for a new-release rental; (B) a hardcore fan of David Cronenberg and/or Don DeLillo; and (C) willing to consume powerful stimulants before and during, then go ahead and watch Cronenberg's interminable Cosmopolis.
TV-on-DVD: Season collections from the FX series Justified and Syfy's Being Human.