In 2005 writer-director Rian Johnson made a big splash with his ambitious debut, Brick, which set a classic noir detective story in a modern-day California high school.
The Maryland-born film-maker is back on fine form with this ingeniously plotted thriller that exploits the gaping plot holes afforded by time travel.
Looper demands constant vigilance from the audience to keep track of alternate, intersecting timelines.
It’s all meticulously planned and stylishly executed, realising Marty McFly’s worst nightmare from the Back To The Future series by allowing a hero to co-exist with his future self in the same timeframe.
The ripple effect leads to a simple yet striking flourish: wounds inflicted on a young protagonist simultaneously manifest as scars on the older self.
This temporal torture allows the characters to cleverly communicate with each other by scoring letters and symbols into their own flesh.
Looper opens in 2044 Kansas. “Time travel has not been invented yet, but in 30 years from now, it will have been,” explains Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an assassin or ‘looper’, whose raison d’etre is to gun down hooded targets that have been sent back in time by his mob bosses, represented in 2044 by the sadistic Abe (Jeff Daniels).
Silver bars are strapped to the backs of each target - payment for the pull of a trigger - and once Joe has incinerated the lifeless body, he stashes his spoils in a hidden floor-space of his swanky apartment.
Like his fellow loopers, Joe knows his life expectancy is finite and one fateful day he will ‘close the loop’ by gunning down his future self.
Needless to say, it’s crucial that loopers do not allow sentiment to cloud their judgment in case their older incarnations dodge the bullet and run amok in 2044, altering the course of the future.
So when Joe hesitates from his bloody duties and allows Future Joe (Bruce Willis) to escape, the race between hunter and hunted begins in earnest.
As a new present unfolds, Future Joe tracks down the younger incarnation of a shadowy figure called The Rainmaker, who will exert terrifying influence in 2074.
Both Joes gravitate towards a remote farmhouse where fiercely protective mother Sara (Emily Blunt) is raising her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) far from prying eyes.
Looper reunites Johnson with Gordon-Levitt, his leading man in Brick, who dons disconcerting prosthetics to match the physicality of Willis.
Plot mechanics trump performances so Gordon-Levitt’s usual intensity is muted while Willis plays to his strengths as an action man.
Blunt impresses in her limited scenes as a mother, who will lay her life on the line to protect her special little boy.
A slow-motion final reckoning is spectacular, benefiting from slick digital effects, and Johnson ties up as many loose ends as possible to close the loop on potential sequels.