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Staying in the loop of scary future

film of the week

looper (15A, general release, 118 minutes)

Director: Rian Johnson Stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Paul Dano, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels

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Staying in the loop of scary future

At this stage filmmakers seem to have agreed that the future is going to be terrible. I can't remember the last time I saw a sci-fi film that didn't paint a nightmarish vision of what's coming next, and in this respect Rian Johnson's Looper is right on trend. It's set in Kansas City in 2042, and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joseph Simmons, a mob hitman with a difference.

Simmons is a 'Looper', a foot soldier in a futuristic criminal gang who kills to order in a horribly ingenious fashion.

Thirty years hence, in the 2070s, time travel has been invented but quickly outlawed, and is only used by criminal gangs wishing to dispose of their enemies.

By that time, bodies will have become so traceable that the old concrete-boots-at-the-bottom-of- the-Hudson routine will no longer pass muster. Instead, mobsters transport victims back to Kansas in 2042: they arrive, hooded and hands tied, in the middle of a cornfield, where Loopers like Simmons shoot them on sight.

A dirty, but lucrative business: the victims arrive with solid silver bars attached to their backs.

There's a psychological price to be paid of course, but otherwise Simmons and his Looper friends live high on the hog in a society that has more or less collapsed. Everyone carries guns and shoots at anyone who gets too close to them.

Life is good, however, for Joseph Simmons and his kind, until the moment he most dreads finally comes to pass. Every now and then, the 2072 bosses decide to 'close a loop', or terminate a Looper's contract by sending the older version of himself back from the future, with gold bars strapped to his back.

Before he knows it, the Looper has killed his future self, but now has enough money to retire in comfort for the next 30 years.

Simmons has never missed a kill, but when his older self turns up he realises what's happened, and the 55-year-old Joseph Simmons (Bruce Willis) manages to escape.

The older Simmons immediately sets out to find and kill a boy who will later become a vicious criminal overlord called The Rainmaker, while the younger Simmons wants to kill the older one before he does any more damage.

At one point, Jeff Daniel's character says in passing that "all this time travel crap fries your brain like an egg", and thinking too much about the logic of Looper's premise will only lead to headaches, nervous exhaustion and possible hospitalisation. Remarkably, however, Johnson succeeds in making his potentially tortuous and bewildering story work. He paces his film brilliantly, explains his concepts succinctly, and Looper makes perfectsense when watched onscreen.

A sub-plot involving Emily Blunt as a single mother, stranded on a farm with her telekinetically gifted son, operates as a neat pace-changer midway through.

As befitting a film involving Willis, a wry sense of humour punctuates the impressive set-piece action scenes, and Willis and Gordon-Levitt play off each other excellently. When the younger Simmons explains he's learning French for his retirement, his older self mutters darkly, "learn Chinese".

There are little moments in Looper that remind one vaguely of other sci-fi sources, like Terminator and the stories of Philip K. Dick, but overall Johnson's film seems remarkably fresh and original, a bold, confident creation.

As for Gordon-Levitt, for a time I thought he was another insubstantial pretty boy in the mould of Shia LaBoeuf, but here he seems suddenly craggier, and more substantial.

He seems, in fact, like a star.

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