As time-travel action films go, here’s one that’s brainy, stylish and carries itself with B-flick modesty—all of which feels like some kind of alchemy. Our dapper antihero, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), lives in a violent, socially deteriorating Kansas City of 2044, where he works as an assassin of mob targets who are beamed from the future to land in the sights of his shotgun. It’s clock-punching drudgery for him, until an oddly familiar face stares back: his own. (This future Joe is played, touchingly, by Bruce Willis; we’ll allow for 30 years of thickening.) The latter dude escapes into the weeds, and eventually, the two find themselves barely divided antagonists in a struggle to change the course of history. Sounds grand, yes, but Looper lets you consider the ripples on your own.
Shockingly (at least to this previously unconvinced viewer), all of this panache has been mustered by 38-year-old writer-director Rian Johnson, who burst out of the gate with 2005’s Brick and never got clear of his cloyingly clever dialogue. What a fine thing age has brought him. Now Johnson appears to love wordless montages—in one sequence, the years fly by romantically—and enjoys exploring the relaxed camaraderie between old foes. He seems to have spent some evenings watching Witness (a vulnerable boy figures prominently), and he knows his way around a farm’s sun-dappled topology. Looper tries (and fails) for a love-against-all-odds resonance, but the shortcomings are minimal. Johnson’s still got plenty of unlooped time to grab that brass ring.
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