Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis play the same man in a twisty time-travel thriller about “loopers,” assassins who use short-range guns called blunderbusses to kill targets sent back in time from the future. The first thing we see is an ornate antique pocket watch as young Joe (Gordon-Levitt) waits next to a cornfield, a cloth spread out on the ground in front of him. The seconds tick by and then the target appears on the cloth, hands cuffed behind him with a bag over his head. Joe shoots, turns over the victim to retrieve the silver bars under his jacket, and disposes of the body. The criminals in the future have found a neat (in both senses of the word) method of dispatching their enemies.
It is 2044. The dead man was sent back from 2074.
Young Joe goes out clubbing with other loopers, the hapless Seth (Paul Dano) and another looper who has been retired. In what is called “closing the loop,” his last target is his future self. These final assignments bring payment in gold along with the knowledge of what will happen to the young assassin when he faces himself in three decades. Seth lets his future self escape and gets in trouble with Abe (a superb Jeff Daniels) the man in charge of the loopers. There are some special challenges that come with the problem of two different versions of the same person running around at the same time; apparently, you can’t just shoot him/them without disturbing the time-space continuum or something like that. Old Joe and Young Joe know themselves/each other too well to trust each other and too well to hide from or outsmart each other. And just like Marty McFly, they have to reckon with the fact that any big changes they make in the now will result in even bigger changes in the future. Which is Old Joe’s past.
Still with me?
As with his brilliant and ground-breaking “Brick,” also starring Gordon-Levitt, writer/director Rian Johnson has an engaging and compelling way of mixing genres. There are some overlays of the Western, the noir crime story, and a “Terminator”-style time travel mind-bender. The efforts to make Gordon-Levitt and Willis look even a little bit like they might be the same guy are ineffective and distracting, but other than that, this is a smart, exciting, mind-bender and a lot of fun.
Parents should know that this film has intense and graphic violence and peril. Adult and child characters injured and killed. The film includes a suicide, disturbing images, drinking, drug use and drug addiction, nudity, sexual references and situations, and very strong language.
Family discussion: Do you agree with Joe’s decision at the end? How did his experience with Seth affect his choices later on? What elements of today’s society inspired this idea about the future?
If you like this, try: “Brick,” from the same writer/director and star and time travel stories like “12 Monkeys” (also with Bruce Willis) and “Frequency”