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Film review: Bruce Willis goes back to the future in 'Looper'

Actor revisits time-traveling device of earlier career in the crime thriller.

September 28, 2012|By Andy Klein
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as "Joe" in "Looper."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as "Joe"… (Photo courtesy…)

Bruce Willis must really like projects that muck with time or at least involve confrontations between past and present: from his first major feature, “Sunset” (old guy vs. young guy, real West vs. more modern myths of the West) through “Lucky Number Slevin” with its deceitful layers of narrative, to (obviously) “Pulp Fiction.” One might even (in a stretch) include his voice-over for “Look Who's Talking,” whose central joke was derived from the clash between Willis' adult voice and the adorable moppet it represented.

Both the underappreciated “The Kid” and arguably overappreciated “Twelve Monkeys” involved actual time travel. So let's consider “Looper” — intelligently written and directed by Rian Johnson (“Brick”) — the third of Willis' time-travel trilogy. This time around it's retired hit man Joe (Willis) being sent into the past to be murdered by his younger self (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Old Joe doesn't show up on screen for almost half an hour; prior to his arrival, we cleave strictly to Young Joe's point of view in the year 2044. Thankfully, this includes a voice-over, which gives the filmmaker a chance to establish the exact rules of this universe's time-bending. The technique is invented in 2074; because of the danger of Mr. 2074 changing something in 2044 that will affect 2074, it's use is highly prohibited, only used by the criminal world.

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Even those mugs are afraid of messing up the current (2074) world, so — rather than exploiting future knowledge of sports events or stock market trends — they use it exclusively for one minimum-impact purpose: shipping their enemies to a 30 years earlier reality to be killed immediately after arrival by assassins called Loopers. No corpses, no evidence. (Jeff Daniels plays the one man from the future alive in 2044 — the boss of the assassins.)

Of course, there's always the chance that a Looper will screw up or will hesitate after somehow realizing that his latest hooded victim is in fact his older self. At one point, we see a clever and disgustingly graphic demonstration of how that's likely to turn out.

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