(director/writer: Rian Johnson; cinematographer: Steve Yedlin; editor: Bob Ducsay; music: Nathan Johnson; cast: Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Frank Brennan (Old Seth), Garret Dillahunt (Jesse), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Nick Gomez (Dale), Summer Qing (Old Joe’s Wife), Tracie Thoms (Beatrix, French speaking diner waitress); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ram Bergman/James D. Stern; Sony Pictures; 2012)

“It might be confusing in its time-travel material, but is both entertaining and somewhat challenging by being so action-packed and loopy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An idea rich existential mind-bender futuristic time-travel sci-fi thriller by the talented writer-director Rian Johnson (“Brick”/”The Brothers Bloom“). It might be confusing in its time-travel material, but is both entertaining and somewhat challenging by being so action-packed and loopy.

In 2044, in a bombed-out urban area, ne’er-do-well drug-addict Joe (Gordon-Levitt), a vintage car owner of a Miata, a retro dresser and a pleasure seeker involved with sweet exotic dancer Suzie (Piper Perabo), works as a looper, a contract killer for a gangster organization. His boss is the gangster time traveler of the future, the menacing but funny underworld boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), who has returned to 2044 to eliminate time travelers from 30 years in the future who return to the past. In 2074, time travel was discovered and exists as an illegal option for lawbreakers to execute their enemies by sending them back to 2044 and thereby leaving no trace of the killing. To dispose of these time travelers who returned to 2044, Abe employs a number of loopers to kill the returnee time-travelers by placing a gunny-sack over their head and binding their hands behind their back and they are then blasted away by the looper with a company issued blunderbuss (a sawed-off shotgun). For each kill the looper earns a good payday of silver, and the frugal Joe plans to use the money to retire in comfort to France after thirty years.

When Joe is ordered to whack someone who turns out to be an older version of himself (Bruce Willis), that person escapes and Joe and Old Joe become hunted men by Abe’s Gat Men (hit men). Joe also learns that the ruthless Rainmaker, a criminal mastermind from 2074, is ‘closing the loops’ (knocking the time travelers off one by one, as he sends the oldsters back to the past to be killed by their younger selves).

In the film’s last hour, set in an isolated sugarcane farm, feisty loving single mom Sara (Emily Blunt) lives in 2044 with her smart weird 10-year-old kid Cid (Pierce Gagnon). The child is someone Old Joe tracked down through a tip as possibly being the future Rainmaker. Since The Rainmaker was responsible for killing in Shanghai the Chinese wife (Summer Qing) Old Joe dearly loved, Old Joe believes if he kills the kid his wife won’t be killed. But the younger version of Joe wrestles with that thought and controls how things finally work out when Cid, Sara, Old Joe and Joe are deciding their fate on the farm grounds near the sugarcane fields.

In the end, the film asks the unanswerable question of when will all the killing stop and if we can put an end to our dead-end mistaken circular existence (samsara) of continuing to make the same mistakes so as not to gain enlightenment but just go around in circles. It also asks if you knew in advance a child would turn into a monster like say a Hitler, would you kill it if you had the chance and knew you could save so many lives in the future? Where the pic bogs down is when it fails to convince us that its outlandish plot developments make sense, such as when not explaining how the paradoxes of time travel is possible–as in the encounter between one’s present (Joe) and future self (Old Joe). That possibility has not been scientifically proven (at least as far as I know).