For a time travel thriller, this film is remarkably free of head-scratching anomalies in the plot, instead concentrating on richly developed characters and goosebump-inducing action. This is an unusually intimate action blockbuster, which gives the cast a chance to do something more resonant than we expect. And writer-director Rian Johnson takes a Christopher Nolan-style approach to the story, using intelligence and strikingly inventive filmmaking to draw us in.
Johnson is also reuniting with his Brick star Gordon-Levitt. He plays Joe, a looper in 2044 Kansas whose job is to kill men who are sent back 30 years in time by the mob, even though time travel has been outlawed. Joe knows that one day his victim will be his older self, sent back to close his loop, giving him 30 years of retirement. But when the older Joe (Willis) appears, he escapes, and now a manhunt is on. If Joe doesn't catch his older self, his boss (Daniels) will do something even more drastic than a vicious henchman (Dillahunt) has in mind. So Joe hides out in a rural farmhouse with single mother Sara (Blunt) and her young son Cid (Gagnon), with whom Joe creates an unusual bond.
The film is beautifully shot and edited, with a noir tone established by a knowing narration and the fact that most characters are addicted to a drug they take as eye-drops. And while it opens with some lively humour and witty edginess, things become darker as the story unfolds, especially when older Joe starts hunting Terminator-style for the younger version of an evil man who has too much power in the future. The hitch is that this man is a 5-year-old in the present day.
As the weight of the plot shifts to older Joe, the film gets increasingly grim. But Willis plays the role as a sardonic twist on his usual Die Hard character, and the superb Gordon-Levitt matches his mannerisms eerily (although his Bruce-alike make-up is distracting). Meanwhile, Blunt is wonderfully engaging as the feisty Sara. In fact, the strong characters make this film so intimate that the climactic action sequence is spine-tinglingly moving. And the timely theme is that perhaps it's better to face our enemies with compassion rather than violence.