Gordon-Levitt, enhanced with facial makeup to approximate Willis’s profile, wisely gives an affectation rather than imitation of his older co-star. He's carelessly nihilistic while Willis is more tortured, and both brood deeply from the soul. This is another revelation for those still discovering Gordon-Levitt, and easily the best Willis has been (with the best role he’s had) in years. They also provide the most riveting face-to-face diner confrontation since Pacino/DeNiro in Heat.

The ensemble cast is strong. Emily Blunt’s (The Adjustment Bureau) gun-weilding Sara has a toughness born of circumstance rather than attitude, giving her dimension and humanity. Pierce Gagnon mezmerizes as the little boy who plays her son, evoking from us both fear and empathy. He’s unforgettable in this small but crucial role.

As the mob leader in 2042, Jeff Daniels (HBO’s The Newsroom) is having a lot of fun with the role while also bringing weight to it, going beyond easy scenery-chewing to unpredictable levels of menace. It’s the kind of standout character work that deserves Oscar recognition but is often overlooked (Willis’s performance falls into that category as well).

For as much as the actors anchor this stylized material, it’s still Johnson’s world and he is in complete command of it. It’s a well-constructed, complex narrative labyrinth with inventive ways of revealing how actions in the present change the future, but it’s much more than a plot machine. This is an affecting character study as well as an existential meditation on fate and justice.

Johnson takes the fantastical device of time travel and uses it to wrestle with challenging ideas. It's not so much that "with knowledge comes responsibility," but what is that responsibility when the knowledge is so cloaked in contextual and moral relativity? How can justice be achieved within that gray? If it can’t, what are the alternatives? Grace? Risk? Sacrifice? Doomed fate? There are no obvious answers and no easy choices.

Looper plays off of Johnson’s vast knowledge of film history, with a deep understanding of which classic techniques make a movie feel like a movie. It has an appreciation for the language and limitations that makes a movie distinctly cinematic as opposed to some overly-rendered virtual reality or glorified video game. Composer Nathan Johnson’s score also evokes previous golden eras.

Sure, the inconsistent memory shifts (or lack of them) for Old Joe occasionally create some holes in the logic, but those loop lapses are easily forgiven and instantly ignored in a movie where the visual, character, and thematic ambitions are so fully reached. Looper isn't just a cool movie. It's pure cinema.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Some casual alcohol consumption. Alcohol and drugs are taken in club settings; people briefly seen as getting high off of the drugs. Smoking.
  • Language/Profanity: Regular though not pervasive use of profanity throughout. Multiple uses of both the F-word and S-word. A couple uses of the A-word. Five instances of the Lord’s name taken in vain. P-word crude sexual slang.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Backstage at a strip club, scantily clad women and a couple briefly seen topless. Man and woman in bed togther; woman is topless, only wearing panties. A man and woman kiss passionately.
  • Violence/Other: A man commits suicide by shooting himself. A child is shot and killed (occurs off-screen). A woman is shot in the gut. A man is shot in the head. Several men are shot and killed at point-blank range. One man slowly loses body parts one at a time (due to shifts in time), each falling off and deteriorating. One man breaks another man’s hand by smashing it with a mallet. Multiple bloody wounds occur as a result of fights, gunplay, etc. A person with telekinetic powers creates havoc, fear, destruction, and injury.

Publication date: September 28, 2012