Looper gives you a lot to wrap your mind around. Two actors (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis) play the same character at different ages, one of whom exists in 2044, and the other 30 years beyond that. They come together in a complex time-travel plot that has the potential to be confusing, but writer/director Rian Johnson's inspired storytelling overcomes all these hurdles. The strength of all its elements, including the performances, story, and special effects, make it an impressive film and a new classic in the sci-fi genre.
The film follows Gordon-Levitt's character Joe, a hitman who kills his targets after they're briefly zapped back from the future to receive their death (since the cleanup is far easier in Joe's present of 2044). The understanding for Joe and his "looper" colleagues is that, eventually, each man will have to kill the older version of himself, and after that they will only have 30 more years to live. The older Joe (played by Willis) is hardly resigned to his fate: he escapes, not only because he doesn't want to die, but also because he has an agenda. Emily Blunt also stars as a woman who takes the younger Joe in when the chase between him and older Joe intensifies. Many filmmakers have visions of disastrous dystopian futures, but Johnson's feels more grounded than most, and with a great deal more imagination.
To find out why I liked Looper so much, just keep reading.
Gordon-Levitt goes the full distance to make himself resemble Willis; in addition to wearing contacts and facial prosthetics, he also alters his voice to match Willis's. The makeup is initially distracting, but the story is so engaging that you get used to it (plus, it's fun to see Gordon-Levitt with a slick swagger and constant, wry grin).
Looper is very much an action film, and Willis is perfectly at home knocking out and kicking down every bad guy on screen. He's beyond comfortable in the role of badass, but it's also amusing to watch him antagonize the younger Joe, whom he patronizes in every way. The other supporting cast members also add to the movie; Jeff Daniels is believable as the reasonable but cold boss of the loopers, Paul Dano is a burst of quirk and emotion as Joe's friend, and Blunt steps outside her usual wheelhouse and plays a tough-talking, farm-running single mom.
In regard to the story, Johnson delivers much more than a game of futuristic cat-and-mouse. Joe's narration provides guidance that makes Looper easy to follow, and Johnson cleverly sidesteps the inherent conundrums of time-travel movies (as one character instructs: we'll be here all day if you think about it too hard). The fascinating world of Looper sometimes gets very dark, with elements that will be thought-provoking for some and disturbing for others. But just as you can't take your eyes off the striking features of Gordon-Levitt's altered face, you can't look away from Looper.