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For one reason or another some directors never seem to get the recognition they deserve as despite bursting onto the scene with his highly inventive high school noir "Brick" and following it with the sorely overlooked Con-Drama "The Brothers Bloom" director Rian Johnson has returned after a short absence with something not short of a bang, as he now brings his distinctive style to rework the time travel movie were in 2074 time travel exists in a highly illegal form were it is used primarily by the mob to send people they want to disappear back to 2044. Here a group of contracted hitman known as loopers, despatch of these future targets in return for silver bars strapped to the back of their targets. When a loopers contract is ended their future self is sent back in time to face the same fate as their usual targets, while the looper receives a hefty pay off, released from their contract and left to live out their remaining thirty years in an arrangement known as "Closing the Loop". Its an arrangement that Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is happy to live by until his future self (Bruce Willis) escapes after being sent back leading him on a manic pursuit to find him, while also on the run from his boss Abe's (Jeff Daniels) person goon squad the "Gat Men".
I guess in many ways it is comforting to see that in 2044 not a huge amount has really changed, sure there are a couple of jet bikes (alas ones which barely work half the time) here and there and a strange mutation has left 10% of the population with minor telekinetic powers a situation Joe dryly describes with the quote
"Everyone thought we were going to have superheroes, but all we got was a bunch of assholes at clubs floating quarters."
But despite this things are still pretty much the same as normal with the divide between the rich and poor only more prominent than ever. Joes life meanwhile is one of cold blooded efficiency and carefree drug abuse, while seemingly only caring for his showgirl girlfriend of sorts Suzie (Piper Perabo), with his refusal to break the rules maintaining, what he believes to be a happy existence and one which suddenly comes crashing down around him with the sudden arrival of his future self, who is less than happy to stick to the arrangement.
Once again Johnson has taken the established ideas laid out by the genre predecessors, which in this case is largely films such as "Back To The Future", "The terminator" and even "12 Monkeys" and still managed to give it a fresh new spin, giving us something which we haven't seen done a hundred times before. Meanwhile Johnson keeps things grounded in a setting drenched in familiarity that he ensures that our focus is on the story, rather than looking out for hints of what the future might hold. Infact Johnson's future vision features more elements of 50's Americana and 40's gangster culture than it does anything resembling a futuristic look, with no random fashion choices or mock advertisements for "Saw 23" or "Jaws 19" in sight. Still this is not to say that Johnson doesn't have fun with the paradox effect, as seen when another looper also loses his future self, which for what would seem to be such a well planned operation, seemingly still happens enough for them to already have a contingency plan in place, which for this looper is that he soon find himself being paid a visit by the surgeon, the effects of which we are soon witnessing on his future self as his limbs and features suddenly start disappearing only to be replaced by aged scar tissue, while the exploring the idea further as one of the main themes of the film, as future Joe attempts to monkey with the timeline himself as he heralds the warning of a mysterious figure known only as "The Rainmaker" whom he intends to stop before he becomes the figure of power he is in the future.
While perhaps not as tightly scripted as his previous films Johnson still manages to throw enough interesting ideas into the mix to hold the attention of the audience while still ensuring that even the tiniest of details ultimately serve a purpose, no matter how trivial they might seem when they first appear. At the same time he doesn't allow the story to get bogged down in time travel jargon and theories, but instead lays out the framework for his vision of how time travel works and builds his story around these rules. Ultimately though the films rests on the performances of it's two leads as Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to impress with yet another memorable performance rounding out an incredible year for him as he effortlessly switches between cold blooded killer and a surprisingly softer side, while with the help of a few prosthetics is a striking younger double of Bruce Willis, who gets to play to both his strengths as he growls dialogue and gets to kick ass in equal measure as he plays things like a grumpier time travelling John McClain. However it is the scenes were the two leads are acting opposite each other that the film is at it's strongest, as they share an incredible onscreen chemistry with Gordon-Levitt more than capable of confidently holding his own with a screen veteran like Willis and made me wish that there was more scenes like this, rather than the two characters heading off on their individual paths, especially when the plotline involving Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) threatens to derails the film yet ultimately proving another essential piece of the puzzle especially in how they tie into the reoccurring themes of nature vs. nurture, family and redemption which feature throughout. Meanwhile the rest of the supporting cast are all good in varying degrees with Jeff Daniels's surprisingly vicious turn as Abe being especially noteworthy as his presence seems to constantly be tainted with the air of violence which usually follows in his wake, either via his hammer favouring punishments or at the hands of his Gat Men.
Ultimately with this film Johnson has crafted a film with enough original ideas to stand up alongside the films which came before it, while still giving the audience plenty to think about while even more randomly he also released a directors commentary, which you can download onto your Ipod and listen to while watching the movie to clear up any grey areas. Still by scraping the usual complex science for more largely physical ideas, he has ensured that if his work wasn't known before this film, it sure as hell will be after this, as this is bold and original film making at its best.