Looper review: Bruce Willis does the time warp, kicks ass

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis face off in Looper, the smartest and most enthralling thing to hit cinemas since Inception.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
2 min read

"Why don't you do what old men do -- and die?" Joseph Gordon-Levitt demands of Bruce Willis as the pair face off in Looper. The two must kill each other to live -- yet they are the same man, 30 years apart, in what is surely the smartest and most enthralling film to hit cinemas since Inception.

Director Rian Johnson follows style-drenched high school film noir Brick and playful confection The Brothers Bloom with another genre-bending mash-up. Looper is a noirish moral maze of mindblowing twists and sudden action, heart-stopping suspense and devastating payoffs, blending sci-fi, film noir, action movie and even a little Western to deliriously excellent effect. It's funny and scary and unexpected all at the same time -- and I absolutely loved it.

The story opens with a Goodfellas-style voiceover from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a young hitman in a grimy near future. He and his fellow loopers dispose of victims sent back from further in the future, where time travel is monopolised by the most powerful crime syndicates. Then one day Joe's gun is aimed at his own older self and a thrilling game of cat and mouse ensues... before the film turns into something else entirely.

Johnson briskly twists the time-spirally premise for every drop of tension, with one swaggeringly horrific scene showing the consequences of what a warped imagination can do with time-warp technology. But unshowy effects and realistically grotty future-y details keep the focus on the characters. 

Opening as a stylish, knife-edge take on Back to the Future 2 crossed with the diner scene from Heat, Looper is also a meditation on the folly of youth, the desperation of old age, and our responsibilities to our children -- with, like, crazy gunfights and exploding heads, and Bruce Willis mowing down gangsters as only Bruce Willis can.

Even when he's clutching a machine gun in each hand, Willis brings a sadness to the ageing Joe, an old man desperate not to lose the little he has. Gordon-Levitt is as magnetic as ever, even under a Willis-ish false nose, while Jeff Daniels, Emily Blunt and Noah Segan are great in support. The standout is young Pierce Gagnon, but you have to see the film to find out why.

Like Inception, this is a smart, funny and jawdroppingly audacious film that improves the less you know about it before it starts -- in fact I'd like to go back in time so I could watch it again.

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