Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) waits in a field. An open pocket watch ticks as time slips by. A man appears out of thin air and without hesitation, Joe blows him away. He then loads the body into the back of his truck and rips open the back of the body, exposing 4 bars of silver.
We move to an industrial furnace. While disposing of the body, a voiceover explains that time travel will be invented in 30 years and immediately be outlawed. Due to tagging techniques, it’s impossible to dispose of bodies in the future so criminal organizations send their marks to the past where special assassins wait to dispatch them and dispose of a body that technically doesn’t exist. These specialized assassins are called Loopers.
Joe goes to a diner where his waitress, Beatrix (Tracie Thoms), inquires about his French lessons. Constantly listening to French-on-tape lessons, Joe is just beginning to grasp the basics. He grabs a coffee.
Entering a heavily fortified pawn shop, Joe drops his gun into a basket. He slips down a passage and walks towards a backroom. He slides 2 silver bars through a small slot. An old hand slides a wad of cash through the opening, which Joe pockets. Another Looper, Dale (Nick Gomez), arrives and makes his own deposit of 4 bricks. He asks Joe if he’ll be going to Club Belle tonight and Joe nods affirmative.
Joe drives around the city when he gets a call from Seth (Paul Dano), a fellow Looper, begging for assistance. His recently purchased slat bike, a hover bike, has broken down and Seth needs a ride to the club. After threatening a homeless man who gets a bit too close, Seth gets into Joe’s car. Joe lectures Seth about why slat bikes are crap while Seth toys around with a quarter, telekinetically floating it above his hand. Joe explains in a voiceover that telekinesis was heralded as the next step in human evolution but ended up being a tacky party trick.
Arriving at the club, a bouncer tells the Loopers that they don’t get to come in on Wednesdays Wednesdays are for the Gat Men. Joe promises that they’re just meeting someone backstage but quickly cuts into the main club. Joe notices Dale cut by and follows, losing Seth in the process. 5-6 other Loopers are gathered at the top of a stairwell. Dale tells Joe that a fellow Looper, Zach (Marcus Hester), has “closed his loop.” Their boss shows Zach out with a shoulder pat. Joe explains that they are called Loopers for a reason: their employment ends when their future selves are sent back, erasing any evidence of their existence and link to their employers.
As Zach asks if they want to celebrate, Kid Blue (Noah Segan) appears to order the Loopers out of the club. The Loopers collectively give Kid Blue the finger and go off to party. They use eye droppers filled with drugs to get high until they are collectively thrown out of the club by the Gat Men. The Loopers pile into Joe’s car and speed off into the night, almost striking a small kid. Clearly impoverished, Joe peels out and drives around him unwilling to spend a moment longer than necessary staring at the kid.
And it’s back to the grind: Joe wakes up, drives out to the corn field, shoots his target of the day, disposes of the body, heads to Beatrix’s diner, and goes to cash in two bricks. A notebook shows that all the other Looper transactions have 4 bricks attached to them suggesting that Joe is quite obviously skimming bricks from his employers. At the club that night, more Loopers celebrate and Joe notes it’s the fourth loop closed in a month: someone is closing all the loops. But Joe’s attention is drawn to a can-can dancer on the stage: Suzie (Piper Perabo).
Joe heads back stage and asks Suzie if she’s working tonight and she apologizes: a Gat Man has bought her out for the evening - A girl’s gotta work. Kid Blue watches the exchange and smirks at Joe; Joe leaves. When he returns to his apartment later at night, he’s a wreck. Eyes bloodshot, he is in the early stages of withdrawal. He quickly applies two drops to his eyes, calmed by the high.
A frantic pounding wakes him up from his sleep. He lurches to the door but there’s no one there. Turning to his window, he sees a very scared Seth banging to be let in. He’s made a mistake. He didn’t kill his older self and “let his loop run.” Joe punches Seth in the face and tells him he can’t be here. He offers Seth some money to run but there’s a knock at the door: Kid Blue and another gat man. Joe has a moment to decide and chooses to help Seth--opening his floor safe and letting Seth crawl in with the bars of gold in the floor. He closes it, smoothes the rug and then lets the Gat Men in. Kid Blue tells Joe that their boss, Abe, wants to have a word.
While they wait outside of Abe’s office, Kid Blue tries to intimidate Joe. He pistol whips the Looper, causing Abe (Jeff Daniels) to come out of his office, accidentally slamming the door into Kid Blue’s head. Kid Blue’s gun discharges and hits the wall. Abe asks Kid Blue if he managed to shoot off his other foot before ushering Joe into his office.
Abe is from the future sent by the mob to run the Loopers. He leveraged his power and hired the Gat Men, effectively consolidating control over the city. He offers Joe a choice: hand over Seth and Abe will allow Joe to keep all the silver bars he’s been skimming during his time as a Looper. Otherwise, he has to give up half his bars for Seth. Abe makes it clear that they won’t kill Seth that would be too dangerous to the future. But they’re going to use him to lure old Seth back to them. Joe agrees, telling Abe the combination to the floor safe. Joe leaves and goes into the club to see Suzie. Abe tells Kid Blue to “call the Doctor.”
Suzie is naked next to Joe. He tells her that he can’t remember his mother’s face. Joe suddenly asks her if she wants to go overseas. Suzie makes it clear that what their relationship is doesn’t extend past “services rendered.” Joe leaves. When he returns home, he opens the safe Seth is gone but the silver remains. A single blood-smeared bar has been knocked out of place.
Across the city, Older Seth (Frank Brennan) limps around past a barbed wire fence. He prepares to climb it when he notices a scar on his palm pointing to his wrist. A message starts to appear, carved into his skin as a scar telling him to be at a specific address in 15 minutes. He prepares to climb again but stops. His right hand is now missing a finger. He watches in horror as more digits disappear. He races against time to reach the location, losing more limbs until he is dragging himself on stumps to the door of the address. The door blows open from shot gun blasts and Old Seth’s head is blown away. Kid Blue drags him into the building and nods to a Doctor whose surgical mask and suit are covered in fresh blood--Seth’s blood.
Time passes and Joe continues his routine. Shooting and disposing for weeks on end through a montage that stops suddenly. Joe is in the field, counting down but the target is late. When the target appears, he’s not bound. He’s not gagged. He’s not masked. And it’s Joe (Bruce Willis).
Joe hesitates and that’s all Old Joe needs. Old Joe spins around as Joe fires his gun striking the gold on Old Joe’s back instead of Old Joe. Old Joe grabs one of the bars and whips it at Joe, full force. Joe flinches and Old Joe is on him punching him out with a single blow to the face.
When Joe comes to, Old Joe is gone. And so is Joe’s car. Horrified, he looks around--all the gold bars are scattered on the ground. He runs back to the city and that night he stakes out his own apartment. He sees the door is open and edges in. The floor safe is open and half the bricks are gone. He hears Kid Blue and another gat man approaching so he hides in the closet. The Gat Men takes several gold bricks to the van outside the apartment while Kid Blue waits. A gunshot rings out. His head jerks up, expectantly.
Joe springs from his hiding place and forces Kid Blue into the floor safe. Before Kid Blue can climb out, Joe slams the safe door on his fingers with a sickening crunch. Joe tells Kid Blue through the safe that he’s going to make everything square with Abe and take down Old Joe but Kid Blue responds by firing a few rounds through the floor safe, clipping Joe’s ear. Joe sprints for the window and jumps out, landing on a car. Everything cuts to black.
We’re back in the corn field and the exact same scene with Old Joe plays out, only Old Joe is gagged and bound. Joe kills him without hesitation, removes the mask and sees the gold bars. He’s closed his loop. We see his life go by: celebrating with the other Loopers, moving out with the gold, at the docks moving his entire life. We see him walking the streets of China, partying, living and eventually becoming a Gat Man. An alternate life unfolding before our eyes, Joe getting older and older.
In the middle of a bar fight, Joe, now in his late forties, is thrown to the floor and looks up. He stares at a beautiful woman (Summer Qing) who will be his wife. She runs away from the fighting and Joe follows her. She tells him to fuck off but the scene changes and they're kissing passionately. She holds up his gun holsters, screaming, and then he’s holding her in bed. Skipping through scenes of their life together. Joe driving with his wife, stopping the car, throwing the holsters and guns into the sea. She helps him through his withdrawals.
We cut to Old Joe in his kitchen staring at numbers scrawled on his palm. A message or clue we don’t quite recognize. The door of the home bursts open and gat men flood the room to take Joe. Joe’s wife sees what is happening and tries to come in from the garden but a Gat Man accidentally shoots her through the stomach killing her in front of Old Joe.
They bring Old Joe to the time displacement mat, but Old Joe breaks free and beats his captors dead. He looks at the number written on his palm and remembers his wife’s face as she screamed and realizes what he has to do. He steps onto the mat and is teleported back into the past.
Back in the present, Old Joe is watching the apartment as well from across the street. Old Joe watches his younger self arrive and stealthily sneak back into his apartment. He kills the driver of Kid Blue’s armored truck with a loud bang (the gunshot from earlier). He steals the driver’s gat and runs to the alley where Young Joe has started scrambling down the fire escape.
As Kid Blue’s partner attempts to kill Young Joe, Old Joe takes aim and fires three shots--killing the Gat Man. Joe has hit the ground and Old Joe scrambles to him, checking his pulse. He picks up his younger self and carries him away.
When Joe awakens his in the outskirts of town in an abandoned parking lot with his ear bandaged. A train whistle blares and he turns his head; he’s at the train tracks. A message from his older self, giving him a chance to leave.
Back at the club, Abe angrily tells his men to sweep the city because Joe isn’t going to be as dumb as Seth was. He screams at Kid Blue, who is deaf, and mocks his stupidity for firing a gun in a metal box. Abe dismisses Kid Blue, telling him to go home while the grown-ups clean up the mess.
Joe goes to Seth’s apartment and breaks in. Across town, Old Joe has broken into the Public Library and printed out maps, pouring over the numbers and trying to decode their meaning. After a moment of inspiration, he circles several areas while cross-referencing them to the public records; He’s looking for someone.
Kid Blue arrives at Seth’s apartment and begins snooping around, thinking Joe would go to his old friend’s house. Back in the library, Old Joe sees an arrow appear on his palm and soon letters start appearing: “B….E….A…T…” He bares his arm and reads the whole message.
Kid Blue bursts into Seth’s apartment but it’s empty. He plays back the video and sees Joe in the apartment. He looks around and notices a key rack with one pair of keys missing. He realizes that Joe has stolen Seth’s slat bike.
Old Joe arrives at Beatrix’s diner. He sits across from Joe and the pair order food for themselves. He congratulates Joe on his ingenuity but says “have fun explaining who Beatrix is for the next 30 years.” A tense standoff ensues where Joe makes it clear that he has to kill Old Joe so that he will get a fair chance to live his own life. But they are inevitably side tracked by the time travel conundrum. Old Joe explains that memories in between are starting to get hazy but when Joe does something in the present, the memory sort of crystalizes for Old Joe and he can recall it.
Old Joe explains that in the future, his wife will save Joe’s life even though he’s a junkie that doesn’t really deserve love. Old Joe tells Joe about her death at the orders of a man known only as “The Rainmaker” a man who took control of all the gangs in the future and ordered the closing of every single loop. Old Joe has to find him and kill him so that they can all live out the lives they are meant to, and save his wife. He shows Joe the numbers on his palm when Old Joe realizes that the diner is too quiet: everyone’s gone.
Joe makes a move to shoot Old Joe but Old Joe kicks the gun right back into Joe’s crotch, slamming Joe’s face down to disorient him. Old Joe realizes that Joe forgot to take the standard issue GPS off the slat bike, allowing Abe’s men to follow them right to the diner. Old Joe starts to tell Joe to run to the field but Joe interrupts by punching Old Joe square in the jaw.
Gat Men enter the diner and begin shooting. Old Joe dispatches a couple and makes a grab for his folder full of printed maps. Joe grabs for them at the same time, tearing one map in half. Joe scrambles towards his gun while Old Joe and the Gat Men have a fire fight through the rest of the diner. Joe fires his gun at Old Joe but misses, destroying a window and giving Old Joe an escape route. Old Joe runs for it.
Kid Blue is waiting outside when the Gat men appear, Joe close behind encouraging them to go after Old Joe. They all follow Old Joe firing blindly and missing. They lose him when Old Joe reaches the corn. There’s a brief moment where the Gat men stare at Joe before he turns and bolts. He makes it to the slat bike and escapes into the fields. He rides it into the fields, guns it and bails. When he dusts himself off he sees his piece of Old Joe’s map and realizes he’s not far from the circled area. He heads towards it.
Sara (Emily Blunt) does work around her farm. She attempts to rouse her young son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), and goes down to cook him breakfast when the screen door bangs open. It’s just the wind, but when Sara goes to close it she notices someone standing at the edge of the corn field and comes out with a gun. She threatens to shoot whomever it is but no one appears. After she returns to the house, Joe pokes his head out and observes some more. He’s sweaty and not looking too good--the first stage of withdrawal.
Back in Abe’s office, he tears Kid Blue a new asshole for allowing both Joes to escape AGAIN. Abe is too scared of what his employers will do and tells Kid Blue to hand over his gun. Kid Blue puts it on the table and won’t let go, forcing Abe to use his hammer to crush Kid Blue’s hand.
Night: Sara notices a flood light on her barn and grabs her shotgun. A man comes out of the barn towards her, but it’s not Joe. He’s slumped over in the corn field but comes to when he hears Sara’s voice. Sara trips over a root as the man comes into view: he’s a mute vagrant just begging for some food. Joe charges from the cane field, gun ready and gets between the two but the vagrant runs off. Joe collapses and starts puking, startlingly Sara. She drags him to the farm and looks at his symptoms, asking him how long it’s been since he “dropped.” He tells her a day.
Joe begs for water as Sara notices his gun. Her eyes go cold, piecing together what Joe is. As he begs, Cid approaches with a cup of water. Sara takes Cid away before she sets Joe up in the barn and tells him to keep drinking water: they’re going to have a talk in the morning.
Old Joe is still in the city when he starts to rub his temple, muttering about the first time he saw her face. We cut to Sara slapping Joe repeatedly in the face. He remembers bits of his wife and how he met her after his fight, but the memory starts to get hazy. Old Joe shakes it off and then starts following a little boy and approaches him. Old Joe raises his fun and shoots the little boy. He stumbles away from the scene to a park where he falls to his knees and starts to cry.
Sara approaches Joe in the barn as he’s cleaning his gun, handcuffed to the cot Sara left him on. She uncuffs him and tells him to get off her farm. He tells her that he’s not interested in her or her son and asks her to confirm that her house is the one on the map he has. She turns the map over and sees the numbers Old Joe wrote down and recognizes them. Without hesitation, she raises her shotgun and shoots Joe, revealing her shotgun is filled with rock salt. She interrogates him and he gives her his speech about how time travel hasn’t been invented yet. When he’s finished, she puts dashes in between the numbers and tells Joe that the number is Cid’s birthday and the hospital code where he was born.
Joe tells her that Old Joe is going to finish off the other kids on his map first, then come to the farm in order to put off facing Joe. Joe tells Sara that if they are going to work together to keep Cid safe, they will need a means of communication: a pair of walkie talkies, preferably, but Sara doesn’t have any. Cid overhears this and Sara takes Cid back to the house.
Old Joe hides in a drainage ditch, his map marked with an X where he’s eliminated the first child. He slips into an uneasy sleep when a child’s hand touches his forehead--jolting Joe awake. Cid is standing above him in the barn and sneaks Joe into the house. He pulls apart a collection of his toys and rewires them into a makeshift communication device. Cid is a skilled inventor for someone his age and comes up with a rudimentary method of communication: Joe presses a button and another toy lights up as a warning. Cid asks about Sara, referring to her as Cid’s mom, but Cid insists that Sara isn’t his mother. “Some bad bad people killed my mom.” When he starts to cry, Joe tells him that he should talk to Sara about this but Cid emphatically replies that “she’s nothing but a liar.”
Old Joe runs through the streets of the city, a hunted man. Abe wants the Gat Men to take care of him immediately. He makes it across town and finds his second target: an apartment building. Old Joe sneaks into the apartment only to realize that his target is Suzie’s daughter. He stands back and watches her through a window.
Joe shows Sara the makeshift device. Sara doesn’t believe for a minute that Joe made it and Joe tells her what happened. She explains that she had Cid when she was 22 and a party girl and had her sister look after the boy. She goes to teach Cid math when they get into an argument about his behavior and Joe’s presence on the farm. Cid starts to throw a tantrum and suddenly, Sara is terrified when Cid starts screaming. She races through the house towards her walk-in closet and into a large metal safe, sealing herself in. Outside, Joe hears the screaming; someone disturbed by the swaying of the corn field.
Later, Sara is asleep with Cid in her arms when she hears the chime of a dinner bell. She goes downstairs and sees the communication light on and blinking. She opens the door where Jesse (Garret Dillahunt), a Gat Man, waits. He asks to inspect the house and Sara allows it. Jesse shows her some pictures of Joe and Old Joe, telling her that he’s a deputized police officer looking to bring down a dangerous criminal and his father. Joe is crouched behind a couch and sees Cid off to the side. He motions for the boy to move as Jesse continues his sweep. Cid guides Joe down to a trap door in the basement that leads to the barn while Jesse completes his sweep, still suspicious of Sara.
In the barn, Joe tells Cid about how his own mom sold him to panhandlers because she couldn’t care for him as a junkie. Instead of a mother, all he had were plans about what he wanted to do with his life and how he’d get the money to do it, making him the perfect Looper. Cid is afraid Jesse will hurt Sara and admits he doesn’t want to see Sara hurt.
Kid Blue sneaks into Suzie’s apartment building, realizing that maybe Joe would hide there. When he scans the security footage he sees Old Joe instead. Pleased, he sees Old Joe looking at Suzie through the window and prepares his trap when Old Joe leaves.
Sara lies in bed, thinking back on everything that happened. Her leg is bare and she runs her fingers along it before pushing the button on her communication buzzer. Joe enters the room and Sara immediately starts kissing him, ripping off his clothes as the pair starts to have sex. Afterwards, Sara reveals she’s a TK mutant and levitates her lighter for Joe. She tells Joe that she knows Old Joe is his loop but that she knows he’s going to kill him. She tells Joe about the night she came back and saw Cid alone for the first time and crying, she falls asleep in his arms.
Old Joe goes around the building and bursts through Suzie’s door, apologizing as he beelines for the daughter’s room. Old Joe walks towards the child’s bedroom and opens the door only to find it dark. A headache distracts him as he remembers what’s happening on the farm with Joe.
The next morning, he comes downstairs to find Jesse holding her at gunpoint. Joe tells Sara to sit on the couch as Jesse trains his gun on Joe. Joe insists he can still make things right but Jesse makes it clear: Abe wants Joe dead even if he does close the loop. Cid walks into the room and Jesse whips around, drawing on instinct and scaring Cid. Cid trips and starts screaming even as Jesse lowers his gun in relief. As Cid starts to fall down the stairs, Joe races to catch him with Sara close behind but before he can go to Cid he’s pushed out the front door by Cid. Jesse is lifted up by Cid’s scream, confused and horrified as he explodes into bloody pulp.
Old Joe remembers everything and realizes that Joe has found the Rainmaker. The room is suddenly illuminated as Kid Blue flips the switch and shoots Old Joe with a taser.
In Abe’s office, his Gat Men circle the spot on the map where they lost Jesse’s signal. Abe starts amassing an army to take down Joe.
Back at the farm, Joe grabs his gun and looks for Cid. Sara doesn’t know what Joe plans on doing but Joe makes it clear: Cid’s mutation is what lets him take control of the mobs in the future. Sara tells him to imagine what good Cid would be able to do if he grew up right. Joe simply tells her that he doesn’t.
Sara desperately cries to Cid to come to her and not Joe but Joe finds him first, covered in Jesse’s blood. He doesn’t raise his gun, just crouches while Cid hugs his leg. Joe caresses Cid’s forehead wiping some of the blood away. Joe tells Sara that she and Cid have to leave the farm because both Old Joe and the Gat Men are going to swarm it in force.
Abe and his men prepare to leave when his buzzer goes off. It’s Kid Blue announcing his triumphant return. Abe’s surprised, but as Kid Blue gloats, Old Joe slams Kid Blue into the wall, draws Kid Blue’s gun and blows a bullet through his chains and into Kid Blue’s midsection. A firefight ensues and Old Joe kills every single one of Abe’s Gat Men and finishes Abe off as well. Kid Blue wakes up in pain, bleeding badly and sees all his comrades dead. He looks at the map where Jesse’s signal disappeared and leaves to kill the Joes.
Old Joe goes to the farm in the truck containing all of Joe’s gold bars. He pulls in and tells Joe he can leave; all the Gat Men are dead. He can have his life. Joe criticizes Old Joe’s methods pointing out that to fix his life he’s going to kill a little boy. Joe raises his gun and fires a scatter shot making Old Joe flinch. Old Joe screams at Joe that if Cid lives he will take away EVERYTHING that’s Joe’s, that’s Old Joe’s. Joe fires again, hitting Old Joe and making him spin when a slat bike appears out of nowhere and clips Joe’s leg: Kid Blue.
Kid Blue levels his gun but Joe starts firing his own weapon at the ground, kicking up dust to obscure the shot. Kid Blue prepares to run him down in the dust but Joe levels himself on the ground and as the slat bike roars over him, he fires his weapon. When the dust clears the slat bike crashes without a driver and Kid Blue lies dead nearby. But Old Joe is gone.
Sara starts the car when Old Joe emerges with his gun raised. Sara and Cid leave the car and run into the corn field. Old Joe fires his weapon, the bullet cutting Cid across the face. Angrily, Cid begins screaming which hoists Old Joe and Sara up off the ground. Looking at how scared his mother is, he manages to control the ability and soon, Old Joe and Sara land softly on the ground. Sara quickly gets between Old Joe and Cid and tells Cid to run.
From a distance, Joe realizes that he’s out of range to shoot Old Joe. In his mind, he sees what’s about to happen. He sees Old Joe raising the gun and killing Sara. He sees Cid running away. Cid on a train nursing his hatred and anger. Seeing the cycle continue infinitely. And turns the gun on himself.
Before Old Joe can fire, he vanishes as the gunshot rings out. Sara feels a vibration in her pocket and sees the buzzer flashing twice. She looks over at Joe as he collapses to the ground. She takes Cid back to the farm house and bathes his wound and Cid asks where Joe went. She tells him that Joe had to go away to keep Cid safe. She goes out to Joe’s body and finds his pocket watch ticking away, opened and without a picture. She closes it and lovingly caresses his head just like his mother used to.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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In order to prevent Cid (Pierce Gagnon) from growing up to become "The Rainmaker", Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shoots himself in the heart with his own Blunderbuss, as Old Joe (Bruce Willis) is about to shoot Cid's mother, Sara (Emily Blunt). This causes Old Joe to immediately disappear as if he never existed at all.
We are left to presume that since Cid now grows up in a loving environment and Sara finds the stash of silver bars that Old Joe stole when he wiped out Abe (Jeff Daniels) and his gang, that Cid's destiny has been changed.
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