Joseph Gordon-Levitt has made quite a trek since playing Tommy Solomon on "3rd Rock from the Sun." The dynamic actor has starring roles in four films this year -- "The Dark Knight Rises," "Premium Rush," "Looper" and Steven Spielberg's upcoming biopic "Lincoln" -- including two likely Oscar contenders ("Knight" and "Lincoln").
But of all the quality projects Gordon-Levitt has been involved with, "Looper" may well be the catalyst for his launch into superstardom.
Time travel is at the crux of the story, so a certain suspension of disbelief is essential. The picture takes place in the year 2044, 30 years before the invention of time travel. Sadly (though not surprisingly) the mob seems to have a stranglehold on the advanced technology, using time travel to send informants and oath-breakers back to the year 2044 for termination by highly paid Loopers (aka hitmen) like Joe (Gordon-Levitt).
Occasionally the mob will send back the older version of the Loopers themselves to "close the loop," which, as you can imagine, creates quite the conundrum for the younger counterparts. And such is the case when Joe's older self (Bruce Willis) appears in the year 2044 and young Joe can't pull the trigger, allowing older Joe to escape. The episode sets off a hunt-and-chase that ropes in brassy farmer Sara (Emily Blunt) and her young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon in a spotlight-stealing performance).
The plot is not as convoluted as it sounds. A healthy chunk of the film takes place on Sara's farm, which tends to slow the pace but allows for strong character development. Director Rian Johnson ("Brick") demonstrates a deft touch and infuses "Looper" with subtleties and soulful moments. Johnson's vision is clear and compelling; the 39-year-old filmmaker is worth keeping an eye on. The makeup department deserves a huge amount of credit for Gordon-Levitt's facial prosthetics, used to make him look like a young Willis.
And Gordon-Levitt's performance is impressive on many levels. He nails Willis' mannerisms, so it's easy to believe the two are younger and older versions of the same person. Gordon-Levitt also showcases his depth by demonstrating both toughness and compassion. Blunt is also remarkably good as a protective mother, and youngster Gagnon is a revelation. The visual effects underwhelm at times (particularly in scenes involving hovering motorbikes), but the story doesn't suffer.
Ultimately, "Looper" is a thoughtful genre-bender that brings science-fiction, action and mystery together in one tight package.