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. "Looper"

Of all the types of films that have been given a steroidal boost by the perfection of CGI effects, perhaps the chief beneficiary is the sci-fi movie. Digital creation, which has just about reached the unlimited stage, has provided an adrenalin rush for the creative minds to unleash their imaginations on concepts that address surreal worlds and distopian futures. I rank "Looper" near the top of that scale. The world it envisions brings extraordinary action, serendipitous romance, and magnetic characters, almost all bad but applause-worthy. Writer-director Rian Johnson, I imagine, would get a pat on the back from the greatest source of futuristic ingenuity ever, Philip K. Dick ("Total Recall," "Blade Runner," "Minority Report.")

In the day and age this story imagines (2044), destiny CAN be changed by the events of the past, which isn't always a foregone conclusion. Perhaps taking a cue from the Great Depression of 2010, the economy has collapsed. Government has more or less fallen apart and criminal mobs have filled in the gap. That's where things stand in 2044. The big wrinkle is that the people know that future time is knowable and that in thirty years, time travel will have been perfected. And people from that time zone are popping up from there with regularity -- only to be shot dead by Loopers.

Joseph "Joe" Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Inception"), 25, is one of these assassins who use a deadly weapon called a blunderbuss, the future's excellent buckshot cannon, to dispose of the people who pop into his time zone at a specific time and place, hooded and garbed in standard clothing so as to be unidentifiable. They've been sent back from 2074 for execution. The idea is to cleanly obliterate mob enemies because future technology makes it impossible for them to kill and get away with it. And, so, a cottage industry of death by time-travel machine is born. The Looper is paid in silver so long as he hews to the mob's rules.

To not do so is to pay dearly, as Seth (Paul Dano), one of Joe's colleagues, will tell you. When you've done something wrong, they "close the loop on you," meaning that they will transit the older version of the 2044 Looper. Another Looper, then, kills the older looper and the current one disappears from existence."

There's never been a hitch, but Joe is no ordinary Looper. He's smart, and his older self (Bruce Willis) is even smarter. A tactical genius who has purposely returned to this time in order to change his fate. He avoids death at the hands of his younger self by a clever tactic, and once Looper Joe recognizes his latest victim as himself, he allows him to escape through the cornfield in the remote area that's his killing ground. Joe the elder, then pursues his mission by going after three young boys who could be the person known in future time as "The Rainmaker," a grand capo of organized crime who deems it necessary to close all loops. The early version of The Rainmaker must then die if he and young Joe, are to reverse the events that caused the death of his wife (Summer Qing), the woman for whom he is risking everything to bring back.

In a pivotal scene, set in a diner, he tries to convince his younger version of what his wife will someday mean to him. As two parts of the same person, they must cooperate in the mission. But, through distrust and/or indifference, young Joe doesn't share older Joe's passion. What he has on his mind is fulfilling his assignment for Abe (Jeff Daniels), his boss, who has been good to him. Pay has been good, and regular. And, Joe has access to Abe's nightclub where the young Looper has enjoyed the comforts of the gorgeous Suzie (Piper Perabo), an in-demand girl for hire.

The moment between the two men is interrupted by the arrival of Abe's Gat Men, spewing lead all over the place in an effort to close the loop on Joe. The Joes manage to escape, but not without young Joe ripping off a portion of a map that his senior has been carrying. On it is a group of numbers that must be a code. A code he must decipher. A code that he senses will be a gamechanger.

Awaiting Joe (and us) are two more primary characters, Sara (Emily Blunt), a tough, willful protector of a six-year old son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon, "The Crazies"), whose powers even she didn't suspect. One of the surprises of the movie, in fact, is little Pierce, whose acting displays an awareness that might place him at the top of his age group, so accomplished and unexpected are his skills.

On the other hand, the beautiful Blunt and the role that she plays brings to mind many an actress who has taken on the self-sufficient prairie woman who might have a male gene or two. There's no doubt that she's one of the sexiest. She has a scene with Joe in which she doesn't stop whacking a tree stump with her axe. It's a marvelous piece of character delineation, scene energy and shows off the grit and determination to be more than her looks. Reminds me of Charlize Theron trying to break out of the model-actress stereotype in serious material, like "The Astronaut's Wife.

The first thing you notice about Gordon-Levitt is that he doesn't look like Gordon-Levitt. Much makeup work with prosthetics was put into shaping him into the young Bruce Willis by the highly skilled makeup team of Jamie Kelman and Kazu Tsuji. Enlarged nose, the structure of his lip line, its fullness and, possibly other facial parts render him unfamiliar and strong. Many hours of work and daily applications of it stands up to extreme close-ups, You'd never recognize him at the mall.

Paul Dano, another understated actor, is charmingly captivating as Joe's friend and fellow Looper. He's used in the narrative to emphasize the fears a Looper might have when he catches signs that his life might be in danger. Jeff Daniels' portrayal of the psychopathic Abe, here, could be considered a highlight of his career.

As a devout fan of TV's "Covert Affairs," it is a thrill for me to see Piper Perabo in a role made for her sexy girl-next-door adventurousness. She is uninhibited and smashing as Joe's favorite prostitute. It's not often I feel envy for an actor's opportunities.

Cinematography by Steve Yedlin is as superb as it is diverse and should be a major credit and accomplishment for him. He leads a crew that is uniformly, under Johnson's vision and direction, top-notch.

The movie is weird and creepy. It can boast (something not all sci-fiers can) clarity. It can be disturbing and some dialogue is confusing. It's awash in cleverness, suspense and dramatic fuel. It's masterful enough to make you think it's an adaptation of a literary work. It's not. It's high-concept, art that is stylishly distorting from frame one. No spareness; no compromise. It defies predictability. Devilish freshness in the outline and final script comes in as steady a stream as those poor, recessive victims from future time.

In the end, and I do mean the end -- that is, the finale, it's so good that it wipes out any thoughts that this is anything less than an exceptionally satisfying piece of futuristic ingenuity with a great corps of actors. As an affirmation of CGI's potential to strip all bounds away from realizing an impossible idea, it's awesome. it will knock you out -- in any time zone.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Joe, a Looper in 2044.
A man who knows his weapons but, not so much, his fate.

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