If you want to be thrown for a loop, Looper should be just the ticket; a cleverly imagined time-travel thriller which blends science fiction and action with dashes of horror and dark comedy as present and future selves collide with violent results.
Joseph-Gordon Levitt (made up to resemble a younger Bruce Willis) stars as Joe, a man with a peculiar occupation. He's a “looper”; an assassin employed by mob bosses from the future, who cleanly dispose of their targets by blasting them back to the past for Joe to shoot (with a crude blunderbuss) and incinerate. Paid in silver bars neatly affixed to their victims from the future, loopers are to carry on this way until one day being sent their own future selves to eliminate – “closing the loop”, as the film's rhetoric puts it. But when Joe finally comes face to face with his future self (Bruce Willis himself), a split second's hesitation allows old Joe to escape, hellbent on taking down a future criminal overlord as a child.
Writer-director Rian Johnson made waves with his 2005 debut Brick (which also starred JGL) by pureeing film noir and high school movie tropes, and he employs the same type of genre-bending here, but turned up to eleven. This is both a good and a bad thing depending on how you prefer to ingest your movies. On the one hand, the film constantly keeps you guessing in terms of the direction it may go. Large credit for this has to go to Johnson's innovative screenplay which elegantly (but also not so elegantly) avoids the paradox of time-travel. But on the other hand, the direction it finally ends up going is not likely to satisfy all movie goers. Indeed, the off-the-rails final act seems somewhat out of place with the high-concept headiness of the first act.
The use of action here is also a mixed bag. While riveting, wryly humourous, and assembled with dynamic flare (thumbs up for DP Steve Yeldin and editor Bob Ducsay), the jarring pacing of loud-silent-loud-silent throughout the film wears a bit thin before the end. Ultimately, the problematic tonal shifts don't detract too severely from what is a unique and engaging film, but they do bar it from the level of greatness that the premise suggested it could have reached in the first thirty minutes.
*** out of ****