Rian Johnson’s LOOPER [4K UHD Review]

Joseph Gordon-Levitt clashes with Bruce Willis in this smart and considered slice of sci-fi


In the futuristic action thriller Looper, time travel will be invented — but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they will send their target 30 years into the past where a “looper” — a hired gun, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) — is waiting to mop up. Joe is getting rich and life is good…until the day the mob decides to “close the loop,” sending back Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) for assassination. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, and also starring Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, and Jeff Daniels.

Time travel will always hold an allure in the movies. Whether hi-concept, or something a little more low-brow (I’m looking at you Hot Tub Time Machine), the mechanics of such a film often forces a screenwriter and director to think a little more, or offers them some unique opportunities. Temporal mechanics are obviously a great fit for Rian Johnson’s (Brick, Knives Out) playful style of filmmaking. In Looper, he’s not just content with introducing us to one possible future, nut two. One in 2044, the other in 2074. The latter, an age where time travel exists, as do all manner of other technologies, that make murder all but impossible. The solution, use outlawed time travel tech to shunt the folk you want ‘removed’ back in time 30 years, and have hired killers do the deed and the disposal. These ‘loopers’ so called as their final day on the job is marked by disposing of their future selves, sent back laden with gold, thus closing their loop, and involvement with the scheme, with one big payday.

This central conceit is revolves around young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, mimicking Willis so well the iffy prosthetics are really not needed), a looper who fails to kill his older self (Bruce Willis, reminding us how great he can be when he gives a damn). Havoc ensues as young Joe has to track old Joe to save his own skin, while old Joe seems to be on some sort of agenda to settle some scores and also track down a kid who may be connected to a mysterious figure known as the “Rainmaker”, a crime boss in 2074. This neatly dovetails into young Joe crossing paths with Sara (Emily Blunt adding grit and heart) and her young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), sequestered on a farm, unaware that Joe’s future self has them in his sights. Oh and there’s also telekinesis involved.

No film is flawless when it comes to time travel, the key is to focus on the bigger picture, or emotional drive, rather than the specifics of the mechanics. Johnson’s sure hand at screenwriting and direction excels in this regard, sketching the premise as a foundation for the plot, and occasionally to do some fun or gnarly things. Great world building, hints and visuals that leave you wanting more, and a nice contrast between the dystopic urban, the the later rural settings where much of the emotional aspects of the film are allowed to percolate. The two versions of the same person offer a nice pivot around some of the central themes relating to human nature. Old Joe’s experience gives him an edge, but he is caught up in the mistakes of the past, driven by emotion and regret. For young Joe, he is intently planning for the future, despite his fellow loopers not really thinking about the consequences of their actions until it’s too late. Age may bring a different perspective, but wisdom can come at any time, as can redemption.

The Package

The new 4K showcases natural yet bold colors. Blacks and contrast also standout, supporting quality detail and depth of image in both light and dark environments. It lacks some of the richness that some of the standout 4K discs offer, but image quality is consistent throughout, as is a natural grain. Overall a very pleasing presentation. Extra features are pretty solid too:

  • Audio Commentary with writer/Director Rian Johnson and Actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt: An overall well balanced and informative commentary. Johnson tends more into the production aspects, Gordon-Levitt and Blunt the experiences on set. Good insights into some of the production design and approaches
  • Deleted Scenes: Total runtime is just under 40 minutes, so you’re getting quite a bit of excised material. The release goes that extra step by providing an associated commentary (with Johnson and actor Noah Segan) to explain the editing choices. Always welcome to have that context, and makes watching these many scenes well worth a dive. Club Entrance Original Cut, Sneaking Into the Belle, Outside the Belle, Pawnshop and Belle Revisited, Kid Blue Sees Joe Rejected, Suzie Never Wants to See Joe Again, Old Seth Original Cut, It’s Not Joe, China Sequence — Original Cut, Gat in a Steel Box, Kid Blue Detective Story, Straws and Salt, Kid Blue Escapes, Sara Decides Not to Dump Joe, Meet Daniel, Evening Lessons, Canady and Kid Blue, Kesse Searches the Laundry, Old Joe Can’t Stop, Old Joe Confronts Suzie, Abe Gathers the Troops, and Sara Walks to the Field
  • The Future from the Beginning: A short featurette where the cast and crew talk about the origins of the film, approach to playing the characters, the two depictions (and those prosthetics) of the main character, and other special effects too
  • The Science of Time Travel: The author of How to Build a Time Machine, Brian Clegg, draws from the depictions of time travel in media, as well as his own personal viewpoint, to give a rundown of the rules concerning any temporal shenanigans
  • Scoring Looper: Composer Nathan Johnson discusses his approach to scoring the film. Short, and weirdly split into three segments: Field Recordings, Percussion, and Melodic Instruments.
  • Looper Animated Trailer:
  • 4K UHD disc, Blu-ray, and digital download code

The Bottom Line

Looper showcases smart storytelling and great action, while successfully weaving in temporal trickery to fun and emotional effect. A great reminder of Rian Johnson’s cinematic craft, that looks great in 4K UHD.

Looper is available on 4K UHD from February 15th

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