Looper delivers tense, high-quality action

Writer-director Rian Johnson has put together quite a resume.

In 2005, his debut independent feature film Brick, a film noir set around a high school, released to critical acclaim. Brick starred a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt and served as the actor’s breakout role.

Tough guy · Bruce Willis stars as old Joe in Looper. Though known for playing hardened characters in films such as Die Hard and Red, Willis shows audiences that he can convey deeper emotion in his latest work. – | Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Seven years and two Breaking Bad episodes later, Rian Johnson has once again teamed up with Gordon-Levitt to create a mentally engaging and massively creative product, this time in the form of Looper.

The year is 2044 and, by the looks of things, the world has spiraled downward. Sure, levitating motorcycles and transparent phones have been invented, but the large number of homeless vagrants and the overall decrepit state of society make for a net loss. Along with levitating motorcycles, the year 2044 also features “loopers,” one of whom is Joe (Gordon-Levitt). He explains in the film’s opening scene that time travel has not yet been invented, but by 2070 it will be, soon to be exploited, of course, by crime syndicates as an efficient method of removing problematic individuals. The future crimelords send their victims back to 2044 where loopers like Joe finish the job and dispose of the body — a body that technically doesn’t exist yet. The twist comes when  Joe is confronted with the task of killing his future self (Bruce Willis) — and with that, Looper takes off.

Though a summary of the film’s plot might make this movie sound like a complicated sci-fi adventure focused on the intricacies of time travel, the actual film is far from convoluted. Looper is grounded in its two lead characters, each of which is equipped with an interesting story, some endearing qualities and a gun.

2044 Joe is a drug-addicted, prostitute-chasing killer, but you can’t help but root for him because of Gordon-Levitt’s magnetic likability. Often criticized for playing one-note characters in films such as Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, Gordon-Levitt is more than impressive here, displaying some serious acting chops and owning his role. This performance should put to rest any qualms regarding his ability to carry a project. And considering the string of lead roles he’s put together over recent years (50/50, Premium Rush and (500) Days of Summer), expect him to maintain his spot as one of Hollywood’s premier lead men.

Meanwhile, Bruce Willis exhibits his best work in many years playing 2072 Joe. He doesn’t physically resemble Gordon-Levitt, but suspending disbelief shouldn’t be a problem with a movie that uses time travel as a narrative device. Old Joe has been hardened by many years on the job, and now he only cares about one thing: the love of his life. Oh, and saving the world from a mysterious criminal named “The Rainmaker.”

Regardless, Bruce Willis is still a great actor, and it’s about time he reminded the world that he can show some emotion.

The supporting cast is rounded out by Jeff Daniels, Emily Blunt and child-actor Pierce Gagnon. Daniels plays Abe, a major player of the future-times crime syndicate who has been sent back in time to handle the logistics of the enterprise (and to provide comic relief). Blunt, sporting an American accent, plays Sara, an imaginary-cigarette-smoking, shotgun-toting farmer and mother of one. Gagnon plays her 10-year-old son Cid, the cutest and most spunky little boy imaginable. The multitude of emotions reflected in his tiny face reveals a young actor who has the honest talent necessary to remain in the movie business long after his cuteness fades.

Looper stuns visually. The cinematography is beautiful and subtle, rife with details like the light illuminating from Joe’s refrigerator in a particularly gorgeous scene. Johnson has constructed an all-encompassing texture that makes the film vividly striking.

In addition, the film is mostly slow-paced, with sporadic high-tension action scenes strewn through. These sequences are shot with goosebump-inducing precision and prove that Johnson is a director thoroughly on top of his game and in command of his craft.

The narrative also moves brilliantly. Looper hinges on the inherent and fascinating paradox of time travel: If you change something about the past, will the future be avoided?

Joe knows that his future will one day have him looking down the barrel of his own gun (or as it’s called in 2044, a blunderbuss), and he is determined to prevent that from happening.

The events that ensue because of his determination to change his fate make for a visually astonishing and ridiculously entertaining ride into the future. Ranging from a thriller to a love story, Looper creates the perfect blend of all.

Looper is one of the best films of the year and presents a director/actor tandem in Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt that will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.