'Looper': Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the year's best sci-fi action movie
A mind-bending time travel thriller with excellent performances, inventive action and unusual twists, it's a refreshing break from Hollywood's cookie cutter approach to action. And another reminder that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the most daring young actors around today.
The less you know before you see it, the better. But here are five non-spoilery things it's safe to share about "Looper":
1) Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his very big year
After a showcase role in "The Dark Knight Rises" and a memorable "Magic Mike"-inspired monologue on "Saturday Night Live," "Looper" gives Gordon-Levitt one of his most challenging roles to date. He's a looper -- an assassin hired to kill people sent back in time and dispose of their bodies -- who faces his toughest assignment when he's tasked with killing himself. Or at least a future version of himself (played by Bruce Willis) sent back through time.
In order to make it more believable that Gordon-Levitt and Willis are playing the same person, the younger actor sports face-altering makeup and delivers a spot-on impression of Willis' trademark mannerisms and line delivery. It's a minor distraction at first, but Gordon-Levitt is so natural in the role -- and the story is so compelling -- you quickly adjust and go with it.
2) Writer-director Rian Johnson has "Breaking Bad" ties
If "Looper" becomes a hit, Gordon-Levitt isn't the only one who will benefit. Director Rian Johnson proves he's ready to graduate from a resume of cult indies ("Brick," "The Brothers Bloom") to bigger budgets and higher profile project. "Breaking Bad" fans already know Johnson's potential from two notable episodes: Johnson directed Season 3's Walt and Jesse-centric "Fly" and last season's "Fifty-One," featuring Walt's birthday and Skyler's swimming pool meltdown.
3) "Looper" borrows, but doesn't steal from some greats
Sci-fi fans will spot traces of seminal works by James Cameron, David Cronenberg, Terry Gilliam, Brian De Palma and even Robert Zemeckis as the movie unfolds, and yet "Looper" remains uniquely its own. The film's vision of the future isn't radically different from our present, but there are more than enough cool gadgets and futuristic twists on everyday life to flesh out the details of the story's brave new world.
4) It's a big change of pace for a trio of TV stars
Jeff Daniels, Piper Perabo and Garrett Dillahunt all have crucial supporting roles in the movie and their characters are all radically different from what we've most recently seen them do on "The Newsroom," "Covert Affairs" and "Raising Hope," respectively. Daniels has a juicy part as the criminal mastermind who oversees the loopers, while Perabo is a saucy hooker with a heart of gold, and Dillahunt is a calm and capable experienced looper.
5) The movie gets a lot of bang for its modest bucks
With a reported $30 million budget, "Looper" cost $100 million less than summer's "Prometheus" and proves money is no match for a creative script and filmmaking. While some of "Looper's" visual effects are a little rough and a few corners are (effectively) cut in minor action scenes, the big moments really pop. "Looper" has some of the most memorable movie imagery of the year. But what really makes it work is a character-driven script that actually makes you care about the action.