There is a moment of blessed relief when the older, Bruce Willis version of Joe tells his younger self, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt to shut up and stop talking about time travel.
It is a welcome difference in this film when compared to other time travel movies. Looper is not concerned with the mechanics of its science fiction element but simply uses it as a narrative tool. The result: Looper comes across as much smarter than the average action film.
The film centers around the character of Joe, an assassin with a very special job. He only kills people from the future. These assassins, called loopers, kill victims who have been sent from the future, disposing of their bodies in the past.
If this sounds complicated, then don’t think about it, as the movie tells you adamantly not to. The point to understand is that loopers kill people from the future, which can become problematic since the last person a looper always kills is himself. Not in the average suicide sense, but rather the past looper will shoot his future self and then go live out his retirement, knowing full well how it will one day end. The younger Joe faces this problem when his older self appears and then escapes.
As stated before, best not to think about it. What really makes Looper work is its performances. There is great supporting work done by Jeff Daniels, who plays a tired-looking mafia leader from the future. Emily Blunt is above satisfactory in providing more than just the usual sort of love interest. The young Pierce Gagnon should also be given enormous credit for a thoroughly powerful child performance, especially since his face is able to convey a wider variety of emotion than any other character. But really, there is only one person most people will talk about coming out of this movie and that is Gordon-Levitt.
The uncanny nature in his performance does not come from the makeup. Despite the best efforts of Hollywood makeup, there is no point where Levitt could be believed to be a younger version of Willis. The appearance just doesn’t cut it. What sells it is the acting. Gordon-Levitt could not act more like Willis if the two had lived together for years. In a performance that harkens back to Zachary Quinto’s style of mimicry in Star Trek (2009), Gordon-Levitt perfectly copies the mannerisms of Willis as well as his method of speaking and facial tics. The result is the audience believing that they are seeing a version of Willis that is thirty years younger, despite knowing full well what the actor looked like at the time.
These powerful performances, combined with an intriguing plot that does not unfold exactly as expected as well as coherently-shot action sequences will leave you feeling very satisfied with Looper. This may not be the next Blade Runner but it is well more than a cut above many recent action films. The movie may not want you to think about time travel and that’s fine, it doesn’t stop it from using it very effectively. The first blockbuster by Rian Johnson (Breaking Bad) is not to be missed. This is the film that action and science-fiction audiences have been waiting for: a reason to return to the cinema.
Looper opened in theatres Sept. 28. Check your local listings for showtimes and locations.