Looper – 5/5 stars

After the dismal Men in Black III this summer, it seems that all hope was lost in finding a current, enjoyable yet smart film, which revolves around the concept of time-travel.  After his fantastic debut film Brick in 2005Rian Johnson became a name to watch out for as a promising new director…then he made The Brothers Bloom (2008), starring Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody, which received lukewarm reviews.

Now, he has revived the complexities – and appeal – of time-travel with his latest film, sci-fi thriller Looper, reuniting him with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Set in the year 2044, Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a looper; an assassin that kills unnamed targets from the future, when time-travel has been deemed illegal but is mainly used by criminal syndicates to get rid of targets.  The rules?  Don’t communicate with the target – and don’t let them live. On one occasion, Joe’s target turns out to be his future self (played by Bruce Willis), who has his own personal agenda in the past…

When it comes to assassin films, time-travel appears to be an ideal plot device.  On the surface of it, it provides a perfect backdrop, supported by simple logic (i.e. change the future by altering the past) but there are times when it can become outdated, confusing or just plain ridiculous.
It is hard to weave an understandable film plot from such a complex concept, so when the idea of the future and present/past form of the same character involved in numerous paradoxes, you cannot help but be a little confused.

However, Johnson is able to weave smarts and imagination into his script, by not raising too many questions and over-complicating his story.  By sticking to the simple and conventional rules of time-travel, he allows the plot and characters take the limelight, rather than focus his efforts on the sci-fi elements of this thriller.  Like his efforts in Brick, his gift is in his story-telling and in this particular effort, his ability to develop an unpretentious view of the future.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great as Joe, whose maturity and determination in trying to pull off a younger version of Willis without falling into a straight-up impersonation is commendable.  It is also great to see the latter not delve into the normal smirk and cockiness that comes from his more memorable roles – just straight-up action with lots of guns and, when called for, greatly appreciated subtlety in his performance.

With its strong performances and certain sci-fi elements successfully incorporated into a suspenseful thriller, you cannot help but be drawn to this film.  Complex, entertaining yet brimming with intelligence, Looper needs to be watched – easily one of the smartest films this year.

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