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Looper is a science fiction thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis playing the same role 30 years apart. This might sound like a bit of a stretch, since the two actors look nothing alike. However, director Rian Johnson, a close personal friend of Gordon-Levitt, convinced the actor to wear a small facial prosthetic that would make him pass as a younger version of Willis.
Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a hit man for the mob in the year 2042.Time traveling has not yet been invented, but it finally becomes a reality some 30 years into the future. The mob bosses he works for send their enemies back to 2044, when loopers like Joe kill them. This means that they will not live to be a nuisance to the mob in 2074, which makes the bosses very happy.
Joe works on a contract basis, meaning he only gets paid if he actually kills the victim. Then one day, a man that Joe recognizes as himself (Bruce Willis) at the age of 55 comes through the time travel portal to be assassinated. In his sock, Joe lets old Joe escape, which makes the mob bosses very angry. All of the sudden, the bosses are chasing down both Joes to try and kill them.
This concept is a refreshing spin on tried-and-true time traveling tropes that serve to make the film more interesting. It came from the mind of director Johnson, who also wrote the screenplay on his own. Though the concept and story are refreshing and new, that doesn’t mean that Hollywood came calling right out of the gate to get this film made. On the contrary, the story sat for a long time in limbo before it was finally given the green light to begin filming.
A big part of the reason that the film got financing is that Bruce Willis decided to join. Though he doesn’t do as many movies today as he used to, he is still a household name with a very recognizable voice and face. He gave an air of credibility to the production that attracted movie executives, which allowed for funding for the film to finally come through.
There was a potential hitch in the plan, though. Gordon-Levitt was quick to point out that Willis and him look nothing alike. He thought it would be a big stretch to try and pass the two off as the same character, even if one is a full 30 years younger than the other. He had reservations, but Johnson assuaged them by pointing out that makeup and prosthetics today could allow Gordon-Levitt to look more like Willis while also being thin enough to allow the emotions on his face to show through.
Next came the unenviable task of finding a makeup artist with the skills to produce such a prosthetic. Johnson’s first choice was legendary makeup man Kazuhiro Tsuji, who initially had no interest in the job at all. He looked at photos of the two actors side by side and decided he didn’t want to do it. After three months of hounding by Johnson, Tsuji finally relented and made the prosthetic that Gordon-Levitt said allowed him to disappear into his role as the younger Joe.
Principle photography began in Louisiana in January 2011, with additional scenes shot in Shanghai. Some of the Shanghai scenes were cut from the film for clarity and running time but will be added back in for the Chinese market in order to make the film more marketable to them.
Though the film was completed in 2011, it was not an easy road to getting a distributor. There was quite a bit of post-production work that needed to be done due to special effects. It was completed by May 2011, just in time for Johnson and producer Ram Bergman to begin trying to negotiate a deal at the annual Cannes Film Festival in France. Distributor FilmDistrict struck a deal that included distribution rights in the United States through TriStar Pictures.
FilmDistrict gave “Looper” a September 28, 2012 release date, putting the first trailer out in April 2012. Another longer trailer was released with “The Dark Knight Rises” in July, which also starred Gordon-Levitt as a cop who was groomed to eventually become Batman’s sidekick Robin. Ahead of its national release, “Looper” will be screened at the Toronto Film Festival, which often screens award-contending movies. It is too early to tell if “Looper” will be chasing after accolades, but actress Emily Blunt, who plays Sara in the film, has said this is the best movie she has ever been involved in. With praise like that, “Looper” stands a good chance of getting some awards.