Film Review: 'Looper' brilliantly conceived, ahead of its time

TriStar Pictures
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on the hunt for his time-traveling older self in "Looper."

TriStar Pictures Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on the hunt for his time-traveling older self in "Looper."

"Looper" is a stunner from start to finish — a smart, exciting time-travel action film that respects its audience, its genre and even its characters. Its story hook is ingenious, and its futuristic details are clever and amusing. (In 2042, whose face is on the world's most accepted currency? Mao's, of course.)

Perhaps most impressive of all, writer-director Rian Johnson — making an entirely successful leap from indie cinema to big time commercial moviemaking — never sacrifices the humanity of the people in his story for a shot of violence or a cheap laugh. He is as interested in emotion as spectacle, which is to say he ties the two together: An explosion makes an impact because of its source and its consequence, not just because it looks cool.

In the futuristic action thriller Looper, time travel will be invented - but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When ...

Rating: R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content

Length: 118 minutes

Released: September 28, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Bruce Willis, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels

Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson

More info and showtimes »

"Looper" casts Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a guy named Joe, a stylish and cocky assassin, or "looper," in the year 2042. Joe kills and disposes of targets sent to him from 30 years in the future, from an age when time travel has been invented and subsequently banned, so that it is employed only by criminal syndicates, which use it as an airtight method of eliminating undesirables.

Eventually, most loopers are required to "close the loop" — i.e., to kill their decades-older future selves, who, after all, know too much to make their bosses comfortable. After this form of self-assassination, a looper is allowed to retire and live it up, in the hope that he can ignore the existential terror that accompanies his awareness that, unlike the rest of humankind, he cannot say he "knoweth not his time."

As the film's trailers reveal, much of "Looper" is a cat-and-mouse chase that follows Joe as he hunts and tries to kill his older self (Bruce Willis), who has escaped into 2042 after taking young Joe by surprise. (Don't worry about the "brain-frying" paradoxes that accompany many time-travel stories: Johnson dispenses with that headachy concern through a speech that reassures moviegoers that "Looper" won't require them to puzzle out all "that time travel (poop).")

What the trailers don't reveal is that much of the film is set on a farmhouse in a cornfield, where the Joes encounter a tough single mother (Emily Blunt) whose young son (Pierce Gagnon) is a "TK," a "mutant" with telekinetic powers. Initially, this domestic interlude seems an unwelcome distraction from the brilliantly conceived and breathlessly executed action-crime plotline, but Johnson makes the mother and son as interesting as the two Joes. (To enhance his resemblance to Willis, Gordon-Levitt wears a convincing prosthetic nose and other bits of makeup.)

Johnson made a splash at Sundance in 2005 with the admirable, show-offy "Brick," a stylized high-school neo-noir that employed a distinctive Dashiell Hammettesque hard-boiled argot and an almost impenetrably Chandleresque mystery plot. "Looper" improves on "Brick" by retaining the earlier film's freshness and vitality while eliminating its confusion: The talented Johnson is now confident enough to make a movie that is accessible as well as clever.

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