Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in "Looper." (TriStar Pictures )
The new sci-fi thriller "Looper" is all about reunions. First, the film reunites "Brick" director Rian Johnson with leading man Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays a hit man plying his trade in the near future, taking out targets once they're sent back in time and into his cross hairs. Within this world, "Looper" also reunites a gruff old bruiser, played by Bruce Willis, with a younger version of himself. Unfortunately, his younger self is none other than Gordon-Levitt, and their meeting is decidedly work-related.
The resulting cat-and-mouse tale, which opened the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday and hits theaters Sept. 28, has earned nothing but praise in early reviews.
Variety's Peter Debruge calls the film "grandly conceived" and "impressively mounted," adding that "'Looper' marks a huge leap forward for Rian Johnson." The director "steps up to the pic's practical challenges nicely, balancing high-caliber action with intricate character work," and Willis brings welcome tenderness to his usual tough-guy routine. Less successful is the prosthetic makeup used to make Gordon-Levitt look more like Willis: "The two actors look nothing alike, of course, which wouldn't be a big deal, if Johnson hadn't tried so hard to force a resemblance."
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy agrees that "Johnson's third and most ambitious feature keeps the action popping while sustaining interest in the long arc." Although "the shakiest aspect of Johnson's original screenplay is what it asks the viewer to buy about the future," McCarthy writes, "the premise is established in nifty fashion" and "the eventual ending is great, the resolution to the tricky time maneuvering very impressively worked out." Gordon-Levitt and Willis earn high marks ("their physical disparity notwithstanding"), as do supporting actors Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels.
RedEye's Matt Pais pens a rave review, calling the film "spectacular" and adding that it "offers imagination and purpose, rather than a thinly conceived world of shiny objects and bizarre technology." Johnson's "sense of humor keeps the morally intricate 'Looper' smart," Pais writes, and "his heart prevents it from feeling cocky." For their part, the cast "kills," and "Gordon-Levitt once again does a lot even when he's seemingly not doing much."
Boxoffice magazine's Amy Nicholson is similarly impressed, crowning "Looper" "the coolest, most-confident sci-fi fllm since 2006's 'Children of Men.'" Nicholson writes that "What's bold about Rian Johnson's briskly philosophical flick isn't just its use of time travel, the mechanics of which [it] refuses to explain," nor its use of "brashly low brow" special effects — "It's that Looper is so economical and cold, giving us a ruthless hero set on an even more ruthless quest."
The Guardian's Henry Barnes finds "Looper" to be a "sharp, smart sci-fi thriller" that's "peppered with great dialogue and two showcase performances from Willis and Gordon-Levitt, who's nailed the pained look of befuddlement, the mannered slouch in the walk, that made Willis a star." Barnes continues, "Even when Johnson winds down their screentime to make room for a side story featuring a prairie mom (Emily Blunt) and her mysteriously gifted son, 'Looper' still ticks along." Those who buy into the film's world are "in for a breathless ride."
Time will tell whether "Looper" can sustain its momentum and score with audiences as well as critics. But as the saying goes, history has a tendency to repeat itself.