In and of itself, Looper's a humdinger of a movie. It's an articulately, unabashedly cool submission to the sci-fi, time travel genre. Outside of itself, though, it's an equally exciting movie. It's writer/director Rian Johnson's third film, following Brick and The Brothers Bloom. Brick has settled nicely as a teen cult film, a high school gumshoe noir, also notable (along with Mysterious Skin) for inaugurating Joseph Gorden-Levitt's adult career. Johnson's sophomore effort, The Brothers Bloom, while not irredeemable, was a bit of a let down, feeling a little too tethered to the twee, postured conventions of Wes Anderson. (Go ahead and start looking for the tallest tree in town, kids: Anderson bugs the hell out of me.) Looper's a pretty magnificent recovery from that stumble: in its genre, but not always of it. Watching Looper, I'm reminded of Reservoir Dogs, Memento, Rushmore, and Pi. Johnson, in this well-worn genre, speaks clearly in his own voice, paying the debt of genre expectation and finding himself with a whole lot of walking-around money. This guy's totally worth making a Google Alert for.
The success of the movie itself has a lot to do with a rather simple but stalwart premise. In 2070, the mob gets rid of its chaff by sending them into the past (the present of the movie), where hired guns are waiting. In a society that has a severely polarized economy, being a hired gun, a Looper, is pretty lucrative. An inevitability of the job, however, is having to kill yourself when the mob's through with you in the future. That's the simple premise. The complication comes when Joe's (JG-L) future escapes. And that's about all I'll say. For all its sci-fi-ness, Looper is essentially a human story aided and amplified by computer effects, as opposed to most recent submissions to the genre, where effects are barely justified by human inclusion.
And while I've got you here, a quick word about Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This kid's at an awkward age. He's much like a young singer with a big, mature voice. He has the chops to play more mature roles, but I think he suffers from what I like to call Leonardo DiCaprio Syndrome. He's got boyish good looks, but the looks are just that: boyish. Look-wise, he's suited just fine for movies like 50/50 and 500 Days of Summer, but he always feels a bit wasted in these roles. At the same time, he felt too young, too on tippytoes in The Dark Night Rises and Inception. As far as I'm concerned, Looper is a perfect fit for this kid. His portrayal of a young, pursed-face Bruce Willis is seriously one of the more impressive performances I've seen. It's studied and subtle, and done so well in mood and mannerisms that the fake nose and eyeliner seem overwrought and unnecessary.