His latest certainly fits into that category. “Looper” is a time travel story that employs the concept in a fresh and entertaining way. Factor in dazzling performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, and the result is a film likely on its way to becoming a sci-fi classic.
In 2072, time travel has been invented but it’s illegal. As such, only powerful criminal organizations use it. When those groups want someone to disappear, they send the victim 30 years into the past, where a hired gun — a “looper” — is waiting to do the job and dispose of the body. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is one of the best, murdering lots of people and making a ton of money doing it.
Life is good until his bosses decide to “close his loop,” meaning the next person sent back in time for him to kill is the future version of himself (Willis). Ordinarily, that’s when a looper celebrates: his contract is ripped up and he’s given a boatload of cash to live out his final years in style. But Old Joe manages to get away, meaning both he and Young Joe become the targets of some very nasty people (including a quietly menacing Jeff Daniels). How single mom Sara (Blunt) and her young son (Pierce Gagnon) factor in is best left unexplained.
Full disclosure: time travel stories are my weakness, so I was predisposed to love “Looper” before I even saw a frame of film. But Johnson isn’t content to coast on brain-bending paradoxes and “what happens if?” scenarios. He also packs the film with compelling, fully-realized characters, each of whom has a perfectly good reason to make sure the future changes or stays the same.
I found myself switching allegiances several times throughout, mostly due to the phenomenal work from everyone involved. Gordon-Levitt continues to demonstrate why he’s one of the brightest talents of this generation. A Best Actor nomination is likely out of the question, but that’s only because the Oscars generally ignore sci-fi outright.
Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m a fan of the prosthetics used to make Gordon-Levitt look like a younger version of Willis. I’m not knocking the makeup, which is incredibly realistic; the problem is that most of us know what the “Die Hard” actor looked like three decades ago. And he didn’t resemble Gordon-Levitt in the slightest. The whole issue was distracting enough to take me out of the movie for the first 30 minutes or so. I got used to it after a while, but it still never felt natural.
Speaking of Willis, he delivers some of the best work of his career. I don’t want to jinx it, but between his performance as Old Joe and his quiet turn in “Moonrise Kingdom” earlier this year, maybe we’ve seen the last of smirking, sleepwalking Willis for a while. (Whoops, “A Good Day to Die Hard” opens in 2013 … never mind.) Regardless, he brings genuine pathos to a role that could’ve been just another one of his rah-rah action heroes.
Blunt, after trying her hand at comedy for a few films, reminds viewers what a strong dramatic actress she is. Her accent is spotty in places, but she matches Gordon-Levitt and Willis in her intensity. Johnson also packs a host of solid actors into smaller supporting roles, including Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, Garret Dillahunt, the aforementioned Daniels and young Gagnon.
Part of me wishes that Johnson had done more to tie up some loose ends in the movie’s final minutes (I kept expecting some last second twist). But my analytical side understands the power of leaving certain plot elements open to the viewer’s interpretation.
“Looper” isn’t perfect, but it’s stylish, original, clever and smart. I had a blast from beginning to end. Unless something crazy happens in the next three months, it’s got a great shot at making my 10 Best List in December.
“Looper” is rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.