Rian Johnson's Looper is very exciting and very confusing at the same time: a gripping time-travel, sci-fi thriller indebted to Christopher Nolan'sMemento and James Cameron'sThe Terminator, but with its own creepiness and muscular sense of urgency. Bewilderingly, the film is set in the future, in 2044, and also 30 years further ahead than that. In 2074, time travel is invented, and at once made illegal by a nervous government; at the same time, surveillance technology and CSI-style forensic skills make killing people very difficult, so crime syndicates get hold of a samizdat time-travel device and use this to "remove" troublesome people. Victims are whooshed back in time 30 years where lowly paid assassins blast them with shotguns and get paid in silver bars strapped to the victim's body. But there's a catch. The killers are known as "loopers", because one day they must close the loop. Their future middle-aged selves must be liquidated, because they have amassed too much information about their employer, so are sent back in time for assassination with the special retirement payoff of gold bars strapped on. The younger self must then pull the trigger, and accept, with as much zen calm as possible, his disappearance in 30 years. One of these loopers is Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (above) ? but when his older self, played by Bruce Willis, comes back, he somehow evades the execution and Joe has to hunt himself down.
As with all time-travel movies, there is an awkward moment when one character asks plaintively about the logical impossibilities inherent in what's happening and another character tells him to just shut up and forget about it. Of course, there is no sense in the time travel in Looper, but no less sense than in any other film in this genre. Johnson makes up for it with narrative force, mesmeric fascination and a sense of a profound taboo being broken. Gordon-Levitt is made up oddly ? to look like Willis's younger self, of course, but this has an uncanny effect, adding to the mutant strangeness that pervades the movie. It's different from the comedy in Robert Zemeckis's Back to the Future(1985) and the deadpan science in Shane Carruth's cult indie Primer (2004). There is violence and fear: criminals have corrupted the very tenets of space and time. Jeff Daniels has a funny cameo as Abe, the gang boss who has to make excursions back in time to check this side of the operation is running smoothly. He is contemptuous of Joe taking French lessons and tells him to learn Mandarin because China is going to be all-important. ("I'm from the future; I know.") I left Looper dizzy with excitement, and also just dizzy.