Direction: Rian Johnson
Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis
Rating: **** 1/2
Cast members Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt pose after a panel for Looper during the Comic Con International Convention in San Diego, California July 13, 2012. (Reuters)
Imagine a band of assassins in Kansas City, circa 2044. Referred to as 'loopers', they are tasked with annihilating people sent back 30 years in time by the criminals of the future.
Imagine too the dilemma facing the youngest hitman when he discovers that his next target is an older version of his own self. This is the first of several twists and turns that occur throughout the tantalising time-travel thriller. The multi-layered screenplay of writer-director Rian Johnson's third feature (after Brick and The Brothers Bloom) requires a great deal of concentration.
Like other memorable science fiction films, Looper incorporates ideas and technologies to draw the viewer into a thoroughly realised dystopian universe. Elements are riffed from genre classics ranging from Chris Marker's 1962 short, La Jetée to Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995) and from The Matrix trilogy to the more recent Inception.
The junkie protagonist (Gordon-Levitt) makes all the right moves, even planning to retire to France with the bullion payload stashed away from previous services rendered. But when confronted by his future self (Willis), he blinks momentarily allowing his intended victim to escape. Now, both men (present and future versions of the same person) are on the run from minions of the criminal mastermind who is intent on closing all the 'loops'.
The film's emotional centre comes into focus during the protracted final act. The young 'looper' arrives at an isolated farm occupied by a single mother (Emily Blunt) and her telekinetic son (Pierce Gagnon, remarkably nuanced). Scenes of visionary complexity explore core issues such as parental abandonment, filial devotion, redemption and self-sacrifice.
Director Johnson also delivers dynamic action set pieces involving hover-bikes, shotguns and chases galore. The ensemble performances, including a terrific cameo by old timer Jeff Daniels as a world-weary mob boss, and the plaintive background music score by the director's brother, Nathan Johnson, contribute to the overall impact. A heady mix of brains, brawn and heart, Looper is a truly original experience.