Johnson takes the story in a completely unexpected direction and then rather than find an easy route out, he ventures into territory that few would approach in a major studio release. No further explanation can be made nor any hints dropped about the specific twist that's sure to divide the audience as that would spoil the film, but suffice it to say very few films would attempt this. The fact it doesn't completely alienate the audience - it will have some moviegoers heading to the aisles (that happened in the preview I attended) - is due to Johnson's storytelling skills and a cast that's fully committed.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, 500 Days of Summer) stars as Joe, a drug-addicted hired killer working as a Looper. It's 2044 and while time travel hasn't yet been invented, in 2074 it's available but outlawed. Joe works for Abe (Jeff Daniels), assassinating targets sent back from '74. The targets are sent from the future to a specific spot in a remote cornfield where Joe stands ready to shoot them the second they arrive. Each victim is strapped with silver bars as payment for the job, and each body is then cremated. It's actually a smart idea given that many of the victims haven't even been born when they're murdered in 2044.
However, there's a change at the top of the organization in 2074 and the Loopers in 2044 are all having their circles closed, meaning their future selves are being sent back for them to murder. In doing so, the 2044 version is retired from looper service to live out the next 30 years knowing exactly when their death will come. Retiring a looper is normally a rare event, but with the change in management, loopers are being kicked out of the service at an ever-increasing pace. And not every one wants to kill their future self...
When it comes time for Joe's loop to close, his future version (played by Bruce Willis) is unwilling to go quietly. And by failing to kill his future self, 2044's Joe becomes a wanted man alongside his 2074 version.
Looper's cast is first-rate, with Gordon-Levitt wearing prosthetics to make him appear more Bruce Willis-ish. It's slightly distracting to start off, but that quickly fades away as the story draws you in. And, in fact, because Gordon-Levitt usually plays the good guy, having his normal charming self hidden behind the facial makeup actually helps to let the actor disappear into the character and that lets the audience follow with him. Willis, playing the retired looper in his 60s who's found true love late in life, is a great match for Gordon-Levitt's younger, cockier character. They're both Joe, but with different memories (the older Joe's are fuzzy and constantly shifting depending on the actions/reactions of the younger Joe) and different personalities.
Emily Blunt appears about 45 minutes in as the single mom who owns the farm where the cornfield is located. She's not the standard action movie damsel in distress nor is she simply a love interest for Gordon-Levitt. As Sara, Blunt continues down the path of becoming one of her generation's most dependable (and chameleon-like) actors. And stealing a few scenes from his veteran co-stars is Pierce Gagnon playing one of the creepiest kids in recent memory.
The Bottom Line:
It's a tricky tale Johnson's attempting to have play out onscreen, and while there are a few iffy moments in the first half hour that seem randomly inserted, no thread is left hanging or plot point left unexplained by the time the finale comes around.
Johnson puts the audience through the wringer, serving up some harrowing action sequences, constantly putting both versions of Joe in danger. Johnson also wisely gives us reasons to care about both the younger and older versions, making their fight scenes a struggle when choosing who to root for.
The special effects, including frightful demonstrations of telepathic powers, put Looper into the running for the best action film of 2012. But unlike many of its genre, the action scenes play second fiddle to the development and advancement of the central characters.
As I said ... all right, as I commanded ... at the beginning of this review, Looper demands you pay attention for the entire 118 minutes of its running time. Fortunately, it's swiftly paced and, as long as you are willing to put up with the one twist that we're refusing to talk about, well worth the effort.
Looper was directed by Rian Johnson and is rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.
Theatrical Release: September 28, 2012