"Looper" starts as an arresting, hilarious, intense, brainy, and disturbing look at a futuristic killing profession, but then is unable to muster the imagination and/or courage to follow through on the level it started at. It buckles under its own weight and feels all too rote as it reaches its conclusion. If you are to suspend your disbelief, the first half of this film is some of the most all-around appealing filmmaking to be had this year. Starting with a bang of a first shot, we are thrust (with a great deal of exposition) into 2044, where drug-addicted hitmen (the main one being a strangely mime-looking Joseph Gordon-Levitt) kill targets sent back in time from 30 years into the future. It's a profitable trade, but also one that's bound to do you in. People have been avoiding spoiling why, so I'll continue the trend, but its a profound and very unsettling conundrum. Moral stakes help flesh the film out from its high concept roots.
Barring the very problematic second half, where things slow basically to a crawl and everything gets pretty boring and nothing comes of anything ultimately, writer/director Rian Johnson's script is a joy. The small details he embeds in the environment of the future make a huge difference in endearing/intriguing the audience. And the dialogue that he gives to his actors (Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels, and Bruce Wills especially, all great and all squandered to some degree) works to the same degree, at least until his uber-conventional characterizations of a mother (Emily Blunt) and son on a farm.
Ultimately, it seems like Johnson expertly faked his way through a lot of the movie (a 2-minute montage of 30 years being the prime example), since he seems at a loss to back things up when the time comes for it. And, while a scene of Willis escaping from confines and blowing a bunch of people away is appropriately badass for such a celebrated action star, Johnson uses it also to avoid going down certain paths. While I can excuse not everything making sense, a lack of ambition for a filmmaker who wants to transcend his current crowd is disappointing. B-