Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young man living in 2044, describes his job succinctly: "taking out the future's garbage." In Rian Johnson's zingy thriller "Looper," he's a hit man employed by gangsters of the future who zap their victims 30 years into the past to be killed and destroyed, leaving no trace. On top of this twist, there's another twist: A looper like Joe has a clause in his contract saying that he must, some day, kill his future self (who'll be sent to Joe's present from the future; got that?), thereby erasing evidence of the illegal deeds. That day comes, and Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) arrives - but things don't go quite as planned.
Like "Inception" (though just a tick less elegant), "Looper" plays with ideas of time and place; it's jittery and dark, presenting the future as something desolate and colorless. Future Joe, rather than instantly becoming a victim, arrives in the past with a mission: He wants to kill the man who, in the future, killed Future Joe's wife. That man is a child in 2044, and F.J. enlists Present Joe's help in finding him, a trail that leads to Sarah (Emily Blunt), a young mother with a gift - common in 2044 - of telekinesis.
All of this sounds potentially confusing, and at times it is, but Johnson, who previously directed Gordon-Levitt in his high-school-noir debut "Brick," keeps things moving along. Gordon-Levitt delivers an uncanny imitation of Willis (he's even got the famous smirk down cold); Willis slouches through the movie like a laconic vigilante; Blunt grounds it all with yet another portrayal of a woman who, in the midst of chaos, seems utterly genuine.
Though this is a shadowy, violent film, Johnson wisely inserts just enough humor to create shades of gray rather than blackness. Willis' character says he doesn't want to talk about time travel, as it means "we'll just be here all day making diagrams with straws." Jeff Daniels, too, lightens things with his weirdly funny portrayal of a frequently exasperated crime boss, irritated by Joe's plans to move to France. "I'm from the future," he growls. "You should go to China." Speaking from 30 years' hindsight, you know he's right.
Stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson.
Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.
© 2012 The Seattle Times
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