Quality: ★★★½ (out of four)
Stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels
Director: Rian Johnson
Rating: R for strong violence, language, sexuality/nudity, drug content
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Theaters: Bluffs 17, Midtown, Aksarben, Great Escape, Westroads, 20 Grand, Village Pointe, Oak View, Twin Creek
A frequent problem with science-fiction movies is that they get so wrapped up in fantasy and effects it's hard to emotionally connect with the characters. They don't feel real.
“Looper,” a brutal action thriller, is a prime example of science fiction at a higher level. It's done so well that it's not only mind-blowing for its fantastical features but also deeply moving as a human story. And it's a story that has something to say.
Set in 2044, “Looper” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a cold mob executioner — for a mob that exists 30 years in the future. By then, time travel will have been invented, but controlled by the criminal element.
The mob sends guys from the future, bound and hooded and ready for execution, to a Kansas cornfield where Joe stands waiting with a sawed off shotgun. It's a slick way for those future mobsters to dispose of a body: dump it in the past.
Joe is what's known as a Looper. He's paid in silver bars, which he spends along with other Loopers on booze, drugs and hookers (Piper Perabo plays his favorite) at a Kansas City watering hole.
Occasionally, Joe knows, Loopers learn after they have fired that they just killed themselves, 30 years older. This is known as closing the Loop, and you get an extra payoff. But fail to kill yourself, for any reason, and you are hunted down by Looper boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) and his henchmen, who work for that future mob.
One day, standing in the cornfield, Joe gets a double shock. His mark arrives slightly late, without a hood — and Joe recognizes his older self (Bruce Willis). Joe hesitates on pulling the trigger.
What happens after that should unfold for the viewer as it did for me, since this is a movie full of surprise twists. But it seems fair to say older Joe and younger Joe have issues to work out, and they do not much like each other.
At some point both versions of Joe will end up at a Kansas farm where single mom Sara (Emily Blunt) and her 10-year-old son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), have to occasionally fend off beggars with a shotgun as they eke out a living on the land.
What makes “Looper” exceptional is the way it gradually fills in the pasts of both Joes, Sara and Cid, showing how tragedies damaged and motivated them to become who they are. Drug addiction, romance, fractured families and telekinesis all factor in. These are human characters we can care about.
Blunt is deeply moving as usual, and Gagnon is a real find as her young son. Daniels is also excellent as a ruthless enforcer. Willis brings his usual combination of attitude, toughness and humor to the role, along with an underlying sense of humanity.
Gordon-Levitt, subtly assuming the characteristics of being Willis, and partially aided by facial makeup to look like him, disappears into the role. It's like no other role you've seen him play, and even his voice sounds different. A remarkable performance.
The futuristic stuff is less outlandish than usual, and the digital effects, which usually take me out of the story, instead left me slack-jawed at one point. You'll know the point. Best of all, “Looper” makes a statement about man's inhumanity to man and the cost of that — and how individual choices make a difference and shape our individual and collective futures.
Director-screenwriter Rian Johnson (“Brick,” “The Brothers Bloom”) has made a well-crafted movie that gets your head buzzing and your heart beating quicker.
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