By Freddy Mayhew

Time-travel has long been an intriguing, if somewhat mind-boggling, plot device.
But rarely has it been put to such thrilling, dramatic use as in director Rian Johnson’s sci-fi epic Looper.

In many respects Looper is a clutch of hackneyed sci-fi concepts which should ruinously pervade any suspension of disbelief from the movie’s offset.

But instead what emerges is something startlingly original, genuinely thought-provoking and at times decidedly horrific.

In a dystopian future the mob is flourishing and time travel has finally been invented.

Due to parallel leaps in forensic science, however, gangsters from the year 2074 prefer to zap their targets back 30 years to meet their demise at the hand of an assassin known as a Looper, leaving no trace of the crime in the future.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such assassin. Routinely stockpiling the solid silver bars which arrive strapped to the backs of his victims, whom he unceremoniously dispatches with a blast from his ready-aimed blunderbuss, and dreaming of retirement in France.

But when more of his colleagues than usual begin ‘closing their loops’ – when the loopers’ last victim was their future selves, sent back in time because the mob has decided they know too much – suspicions begin to arise that they are being deliberately wiped-out.

After one of the most toe-curling, hand-over-mouth scenes ever put to film involving Joe’s friend and colleague Seth (Paul Dano), it’s not long before rumour turns to reality and Joe’s own future comes crashing through to the film’s present when his older self (Bruce Willis) is suddenly his next target.

Only Willis isn’t bound and hooded as ceremony dictates, rather he’s back with a purpose: to avenge a loved-one murdered by mob boss the Rainmaker’s newly established reign of terror.

He plans to kill the renegade gang leader as a boy, sparing his own loss by rewriting the past. But this task might not be as easy as it first seems.

What follows is an adventure sat right within the pulsing vein of great sci-fi.

At times sublimely existentialist and thoughtful, at others gasp-inducing in the scale and delivery of its action set-pieces.

The film is probably at its sophisticated best when Gordon-Levitt is on-screen, and it’s no surprise to see such a brilliant performance from the Inception actor under the direction of Johnson given the pair’s earlier success with 2005’s Brick.

Hugely talented turns are also made by Paul Dano and Emily Blunt – whose protective southern mother is proof that she has far more to give than the occasional rom-com and should herald a bounty of offers for lead roles.

The spurious science on which Looper’s plot revolves is wisely downplayed given its capacity to ruin the film should it be properly assessed at any time, and is only ever mentioned to discourage the viewer from giving it too much thought.

But sadly the same sensible approach was bereft at the discussion table when it came to the Willis nose. Although seamlessly done, a digitally remodelled Gordon-Levitt is a constant source of slight disorientation and distraction to the viewer.

Any continuity gained through the CGI enhancement is at once hopelessly belittled by the needless absurdity of seeing one of Hollywood’s rising stars sporting the facial furniture of one of its oldest.

All in all Looper is brilliantly executed and, which is rare for sci-fi, finishes with a satisfying and suitably climactic end. Its cast offers some superb performances and should firmly mark Joseph Gordon-Levitt out as one of the big names of the near future.

While billing it as the Matrix for this generation is perhaps a little off colour, Looper is a rare and exquisite production which should not be missed.

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