Metropolis. Planet of the Apes. Star Wars.
Alien. The Empire Strikes Back.
The Terminator. Aliens. Blade Runner.
Those are the select films that I consider to be among the best science fiction films ever created. The problem with a number of science fiction films, for me, it that their plots are so far fetched. More times than not, the execution of science fiction films comes off as confusing and rather silly. What it seems to take for a sci-fi film to be great is one of two things: creative characters that embody some universal theme or fascinating new planets that open ours minds to new possibilities. All of the above films have done that masterfully. Each year, films like The Matrix and Avatar always seem to be made in an attempt to join the ranks of the greats.
This year, that film is Looper, the new film from writer/director Rian Johnson. The year is 2074, and the mob users loopers to get rid of someone without the law coming after them. What is a looper you ask? Whoever the mob decides they want to get rid of, they send them 30 years into the past. When the person arrives in the past, a looper is waiting to kill them. The problem for the loopers is that the mob eventually begins to 'close the loop' for any looper that is under their employment. In others words, some loopers are beginning to be tasked with killing their future selves. This happens to Joe, and his hesitation to kill his future self results in problems with the mob.
Sound confusing? Well it's not once you get settled into the idea. That's probably the best thing about Looper actually. The original screenplay by Johnson is really quite good, and he fleshes out a number of the characters in admirable fashion. Joe of course is the lead character. He is played in a younger form by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and in a future form by Bruce Willis. Both actors are great in their role, but it is Levitt who is meant to be the standout and he definitely is. Viewers have to believe that his character can at one moment be a killer, yet at another can be tenderhearted enough to save a woman and her child from danger. It's a rather great performance, especially for a science fiction film. Joe is a complicated character, but the film largely works because Levitt is able to portray every one of his facets.
Supporting players in the film include everyone from Paul Dano (There Will be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine) to Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber, The Squid and the Whale) and Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, The Adjustment Bureau). Blunt is of notice, showing some great range in her role as the mother who Joe begins to fall in love with. The problem with Dano and Daniel's characters, however, is that neither of them really contribute much to the overall story. Daniels does have some great moments, but there aren't any specific scenes which really allow him to shine.
Still, by any measure, Looper is an incredibly original film and that is what made me enjoy it. While the film's major twist can be seen from a distance, there is enough throughout the film that keeps the viewer engaged. The picture takes some time to address destiny and the natural course of events throughout one's life, and this is perhaps where it ultimately excels. While it is not a science fiction great, Looper is still one of the better films of the year.