Time to kill

Hold on, there’s a wasp on your knee.

Hold on, there’s a wasp on your knee.

Rated 5.0

You take a big risk when you cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis. You also take a big risk when you cast the suddenly inconsistent Bruce Willis in anything nowadays.

Those risks pay off in super-mega jackpot fashion in writer-director Rian Johnson’s brilliant and taut Looper, one of the best time travel epics to ever hit the screen.

Levitt plays Joe, a loner living in 2042 who has actually been sent back from the year 2072 to kill people that organized crime wishes to dispose of. He stands in a field with his gun aimed at a tarp, waiting for the his hooded victim to zap back from the future and receive a very rude greeting.

There’s a big twist to having this job, nicknamed “looper.” The reason you are a looper is because, eventually, your “loop” will be closed. That person you will dispatch will one day be you, and a big chunk of gold will be strapped to your dead back to make the 30 years leading up to your “loop” being closed a little more pleasurable.

Still, that’s a pretty shitty job when you get down to it, and that job becomes shittier when Joe’s future self (Willis) gets sent back, and he’s not particularly ready to get shot by himself while on bended knees.

Johnson doesn’t go the Back to the Future route when it comes to people meeting their future selves in the present. The universe doesn’t unravel, but Joe’s present life most certainly does. Future Joe has an agenda, and Present Joe knows that he’s the sort of tenacious bastard who will do anything to achieve that agenda because, well, he’s him. It makes for a very interesting rivalry.

There’s a scene where the two face off in a diner, and I’m going to go ahead and call this scene one of 2012’s greatest film moments.

I love the look of 30 years into our future depicted in this movie. It’s as realistic and viable a future world as I have ever seen in a science fiction film. The cities are at once spiraling, sprawling and dilapidated. I bought the world Johnson depicts here.

And I bought Gordon-Levitt as a younger version of Willis, and Willis as a future version of Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt is wearing makeup to slightly alter his appearance, but it’s his slightly smirking demeanor that screams Willis. He doesn’t overdo it with the smirk, nor does he overdo it with the growly Willis vocal inflections.

Willis, who is having a mixed year with direct-to-video crap and masterpieces like this and Moonrise Kingdom, looks totally invested in this picture. He’s looked like he is sleepwalking through films in recent years—Cop Out could be his very worst performance—but he is old-school, awesome Willis this time out.

Jeff Daniels delivers some of his best work in years as Abe, a crime boss sent back from the future to make sure things don’t get out of hand. The great thing about Daniels as a ruthless crime boss is that he plays him the way we generally know Daniels—as a mild mannered, warm, gentlemanly sort. It makes the moments when Abe goes off genuinely frightening.

For a change, Emily Blunt gets a good role as Sara, a farm-dwelling mother looking to protect her moody son (the amazing child actor Pierce Gagnon) and herself from vagrants. She has more than vagrancy to contend with when the Joes come calling. Gagnon has an arsenal of facial expressions that would make a young Haley Joel Osment cry with envy.

Johnson has made a movie in which it’s virtually impossible to guess what’s going to happen next. You’ll walk in with a general idea of the goings on, but your jaw will be agape with surprise by the time this thing wraps. It’s a true mind-bender, and it’s one of the year’s best films.