In 2044, 25-year-old Joe works for a Kansas City crime syndicate as a "looper." Since future tracking systems have made it near-impossible to dispose of bodies, the syndicate uses time travel, invented thirty years later and outlawed instantly. Managed by a future man named Abe Mitchell, loopers kill and dispose of face-concealed victims, and are paid with silver bars strapped to the target. To prevent connections to the syndicate, a looper's final victim will always be their retired future self (identified by gold bars strapped to them instead of silver), effectively ending the contract and "closing the loop".
Joe's friend Seth, part of a minority that manifest low-level telekinesis (or TK), confides that his old self has escaped, after warning him of a person in the future called the Rainmaker who will overthrow the five major bosses and close all loops. Joe reluctantly hides Seth in his apartment's floor safe, but is taken to Abe by Kid Blue, one of Abe's elite "Gat Men." Joe reveals Seth's location instead of forfeiting half his silver, and Abe's men cut an address into younger Seth's arm, then begin severing body parts. As Old Seth's limbs disappear, he goes to the address and is killed.
When Joe's next target arrives, it is his older self with his face uncovered. Before Joe can kill him, Old Joe shields himself, knocks younger Joe unconscious and escapes. Returning to his apartment, Young Joe fights with Kid Blue, only to fall off a fire escape and black out.
In another timeline, Young Joe kills his older self as he arrives. He moves to Shanghai, where his drug addiction and partying persist, becoming a hitman to finance himself. Years later, he meets a woman during a bar fight and they marry. Thirty years after, Joe is taken to close the loop and his wife is killed in the process. Overpowering his captors, Joe sends himself back to 2044, thereby altering history. When Old Joe sees Young Joe fall, he shoots the Gat Men and drags him away.
Old Joe begins to manifest vague memories of Young Joe's actions in the present, and meets his younger self at a diner to explain that he intends to save his wife by killing the Rainmaker as a child. Kid Blue and several other Gat Men arrive at the diner and a gunfight ensues: Young Joe collects a corner of Old Joe's map as both escape.
Young Joe follows the map to a farm where Sara and her son Cid live. Sara recognizes the number on the map as Cid's birthday and birth hospital's code. Young Joe guesses that Old Joe is going to kill all three children born at the hospital that day, not knowing which one will become the Rainmaker, so he stays at the farm to wait for Old Joe.
Jesse, another Gat Man, comes looking for both Joes at the farm, but Cid and Young Joe hide in an underground tunnel. Later that night Sara and Young Joe have sex, and Sara reveals she has TK powers. Cid's powers are revealed to be even stronger, with Sara hiding in a safe when he has a tantrum. In the morning, Young Joe wakes to find Jesse holding Sara at gunpoint in the living room. Frightened, Cid falls down the stairs and telekinetically destroys Jesse. Young Joe realizes that Cid will become the Rainmaker, using his powers to control the city, and that Old Joe will now know this from his memories.
Kid Blue captures Old Joe and takes him to Abe. Old Joe breaks free and kills Abe and his henchmen, then travels to Sara's farm. While Young Joe kills Kid Blue, Old Joe pursues Sara and Cid. Cid's cheek is grazed by Old Joe's bullet, and he creates a telekinetic blast, but is calmed by Sara before he can kill them. Telling Cid to run into the cane field, Sara stands between Old Joe and her son. Young Joe realizes that Cid's mother's death will turn him into the Rainmaker and commits suicide, erasing Old Joe's existence, saving Sara and preventing Cid from becoming the Rainmaker.Bruce Willis as Joe
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Young Joe
Emily Blunt as Sara
Paul Dano as Young Seth
Frank Brennan as Seth
Noah Segan as Kid Blue
Piper Perabo as Suzie
Jeff Daniels as Jack Abe Mitchell
Pierce Gagnon as Cid
Summer Qing as Joe's Wife
Tracie Thoms as Beatrix
Garret Dillahunt as Jesse
Nick Gomez as Dale
Marcus Hester as Zach
Looper was written and directed by Rian Johnson. After Johnson released The Brothers Bloom in 2008, he re-teamed with producer Ram Bergman, who produced Johnson's previous two films, with the goal of starting production of Looper in 2009. In May 2010, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was cast in one of the lead roles, which he would play after completing Premium Rush. Later in the month, Bruce Willis was also cast. In the following October, Emily Blunt joined Gordon-Levitt and Willis. Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, and Piper Perabo were cast in January 2011. Filming began in Louisiana on January 24, 2011.
Makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji created the prosthetics that Gordon-Levitt wore in the film so that he would physically resemble Willis. The film's score was composed by Nathan Johnson, Rian Johnson's cousin.
Talking about Looper and time travel in film, Rian Johnson said:
Even though it's a time-travel movie, the pleasure of it doesn't come from the mass of time travel. It's not a film like Primer, for instance, where the big part of the enjoyment is kind of working out all the intricacies of it. For Looper, I very much wanted it to be a more character-based movie that is more about how these characters dealt with the situation time travel has brought about. So the biggest challenge was figuring out how to not spend the whole movie explaining the rules and figure out how to put it out there in a way that made sense on some intuitive level for the audience; then get past it and deal with the real meat of the story.
Other influences cited by Rian Johnson include The Terminator, Witness, Akira, Domu: A Child's Dream, 12 Monkeys, Timecrimes, and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
Looper premiered on September 6, 2012, at the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival. The film was then released theatrically in the United States on September 28, 2012 by FilmDistrict, who obtained the domestic rights from production company Endgame Entertainment at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. In turn, FilmDistrict chose to release the film with TriStar Pictures.
The Chinese release of the film reintegrates a substantial number of scenes set in Shanghai. The move was requested by Chinese production company DMG Entertainment in order to further appeal to Chinese audiences. Several of these scenes were shortened or cut for the American release.
Johnson released a free audio commentary on SoundCloud to be downloaded and listened to during the film, with the warning: "Needless to say, this is NOT to be listened to on a first viewing, or before you've seen the film."
Looper opened on September 28, 2012, in 2,992 theaters in North America and grossed US$20,801,522 in its opening weekend averaging US$6,952 per theater and ranking #2 at the box office. The widest release of the film in the U.S was 2,993 theaters and it ended up earning US$66.5 million domestically and US$110 million internationally for a total of US$176.5 million, against its US$30 million production budget.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 93% based on 250 reviews, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The critical consensus reads, "As thought-provoking as it is thrilling, Looper delivers an uncommonly smart, bravely original blend of futuristic sci-fi and good old-fashioned action." On Metacritic the film has a score of 84 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by the market research firm CinemaScore gave the film a B+ grade on average.
James Mottram of Total Film gave Looper 5 stars out of 5, concluding that it was "the best sci-fi movie since Moon. The best time-travel yarn since 12 Monkeys. And one of the best films of 2012."
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review, calling it "an engaging, neatly worked-out time-travel sci-fi thriller", but also criticizing the effects involved in making Gordon-Levitt resemble Willis: "At first, the effect is a bit odd, and you can't quite put your finger on what's off; then it feels downright weird to be looking at a version of Gordon-Levitt who is no longer the actor you've known for a few years now."
Peter Debruge of Variety also gave the film a positive review, writing that writer-director Johnson's "grandly conceived, impressively mounted third feature shows a giddy, geeky interest in science-fiction, then forces it into the back seat and lets the multidimensional characters drive. In a genre infamous for loose ends, this thinking man's thriller marshals action, romance and a dose of very dark comedy toward a stunning payoff."
Kim Newman of Empire magazine gave Looper 5 stars out of 5, writing, "Intelligent science-fiction sometimes seems an endangered species—too much physics and there's a risk of creating something cold and remote, too many explosions and get lost in the multiplex. Looper isn't perfect, but it pulls off the full Wizard Of Oz: it has a brain, courage and a heart." Noel Murray of The A.V. Club gave the film an A− grade, writing, "Looper is a remarkable feat of imagination and execution, entertaining from start to finish, even as it asks the audience to contemplate how and why humanity keeps making the same rotten mistakes." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times gave the film a positive review, writing, "Looper is way inventive but it wears its creativity lightly, like it's no big deal. This is a highflying, super-stylish science-fiction thriller that brings a fresh approach to mind-bending genre material. We're not always sure where this time-travel film is going, but we wouldn't dream of abandoning the ride."
Claudia Puig of USA Today gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, writing, "Looper's heady blend of time travel, gritty action and a jot of romance is such a thrilling and cerebral mind-bender that it will likely have moviegoers gathering outside the theater afterward to hash out details of its intricately constructed universe. Not that that's a bad thing." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, praising the performances of Willis and Gordon-Levitt and concluding, "Lacing tremendously exciting action with touching gravity, Looper hits you like a shot in the heart." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times also gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, praising its screenplay, stating "Looper, a smart and tricky sci-fi story, sidesteps the paradoxes of time travel by embracing them. Most time travel movies run into trouble in the final scenes, when impossibilities pile up one upon another. This film leads to a startling conclusion that wipes out the story's paradoxes so neatly it's as if it never happened."
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B+ grade, writing, "The time swivels in Looper evoke some of Inception's fancy temporal tricks (some of which, of course, also involved Gordon-Levitt straddling multiple time zones at once). But it's the glimpses of Children of Men-like societal dystopia that give the movie its real weight". Keith Staskiewicz, also writing for Entertainment Weekly (reviewing the DVD) and also giving a "B+", said, "The film's premise is markedly inventive, and [writer-director Rian] Johnson spends a lot of time making his universe seem lived-in and believable, but he's not just concerned with whiz-bang what-ifs. The showdown of selves illuminates just how little Gordon-Levitt's character has changed over the intervening years, stuck as he is in a feedback loop of drug use and violence despite his pipe dream of moving to Europe. The retro trench coats and firearms also suggest a sort of eternal recurrence, and as Looper's plot gets more complex, its central question simplifies: If we can't fix our mistakes, can we at least make sure we don't repeat the same ones over and over again?"
Richard Corliss of Time magazine gave the film a positive review, calling Looper a "hybrid, mashing Quentin Tarantino and Philip K. Dick into a species of pulp science fiction" and also writing, "A fanciful film with the patina of hyper-realism, Looper is well served by actors who behave not as if they were dropped carelessly into the future but spent their whole desperate lives there." Dana Stevens of Slate gave the film a mixed review, writing, "Looper felt to me like a maddening near-miss: It posits an impossible but fascinating-to-imagine relationship – a face-to-face encounter between one's present and future self, in which each self must account for its betrayal of the other – and then throws away nearly all the dramatic potential that relationship offers."
The film was included in the following top ten lists for the best films of 2012:
The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD in North America on December 31, 2012. The film was also released on January 28, 2013 in online UK stores, with a general release on February 4, 2013. The film made $20,583,583 in domestic DVD sales and $11,468,974 from domestic Blu-ray sales for a total of $32,052,557.