Looper certainly lives up to its title. It's a twisty time-travel extravaganza that moves swiftly while tying the viewer in knots as we try to puzzle it out. Director Rian Johnson hasn't taken much time to make sense out of this existential SF noir, but I will say that it has more of a pulse than his 2005 debut Brick (which was about as thick as one); and it's less irritating than his hyper-antic The Brothers Bloom (2008) which had a bad case of the tics. Nevertheless, having a motor still doesn't guarantee a fun ride. People will tell you that sometimes, with movies like Looper, you need to just suspend your disbelief. But how can you suspend disbelief if you don't believe in what you're seeing to begin with?
The action takes place largely in Kansas City in the year 2044 where the city seems to be completely run by hoodlums. (As usual with these tech-noirs, nobody feels any great need to tell us why.) Joseph (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young gangster who works for the 'company' as a 'looper' (essentially a staff employed hit-man). In the future, time-travel has been invented but it is illegal. So the criminal empire, which by 2074 is run from Shanghai, sends its victims back to Kansas City in 2044, to be shot and killed by the 'loopers' as a way to dispose of the evidence. The 'loopers' are then paid with bars of silver providing that their victim does not escape. (Are the Shanghai investigators of organized crime in 2074 really that dense that they never figure out the mob's little scheme?) Furthermore, when the Shanghai 'company' wants to 'close the loop,' they inform Abe (Jeff Daniels), an avuncular Don in Kansas City who believes in literally driving his points home with a ball-peen hammer, who then has the 'looper' kill the older version of himself when he is sent back. (Are the criminals as dense as the authorities? Why would you get the younger 'looper' to snuff out the older version of himself? Wouldn't he be the least likely candidate to hire? Or is this what Rian Johnson considers an expression of his character's existential angst?) Of course, Joseph ends up getting his 'loop' closed, but when he meets his older self (Bruce Willis), he turns out to be craftier than his younger counterpart and he escapes. Apparently, in the future Shanghai, Joseph is happily married until the mob boss, the Rainmaker, decides to close his 'loop' and murder his wife. The older Joseph comes back to the past to find the younger Rainmaker – a mere child – to kill him and then change the outcome of his future.