Time travel is confusing. Once you think you may have a grasp on it and have ironed out the 'what-ifs', a new paradox will pop up and collapse your argument which was a house of cards anyways. There are too many holes, and especially plot holes, when you try to rationally reason through what it means to travel through time and change the past. Once time travel is invented, hasn't it always been invented then? If you go back in time and change something, will you just disappear because your specific future no longer exists?
Looper sidesteps this whole enigma by having old Joe (Bruce Willis) tell his younger self that there is no use trying to figure it all out; it will just confuse you. This one statement immediately smooths out the conversation he is having with young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the audience's mental gymnastics, and while still leaving them right there in front of you, chooses to ignore the Grand Canyon sized plot holes. If you spend enough time with a pen and a sheet of paper, you will most likely identify a dozen or so glaring issues with jumping back through time, but where is the fun in that? With Looper, it is enough to recognize you have a creative story to watch and gifted actors to watch carry it out.
The year is 2044, not so far in the future to imagine teleportation and interstellar flight, but far enough to dream up new technology, weapons, and illicit drugs. 2044 is quite similar to today's reality, but its every day norms and today's extreme edges magnified by 1000. There are hover motorcycles, currency is literally based on gold and silver, and the drug all the kids are using is administered through eyedrops and appears to have the effects as cocaine. There is also some glaring income inequality, you either have money or you do not; there is no middle class. The city landscape shows thousands of people living on the sidewalks and sometimes in the middle of the street. If someone steals from you, it looks like you are allowed to pull out your personal shotgun and teach them a severe lesson.
Young Joe is a looper. At a specific time and always in the same place, the edge of a corn field, a hooded person will appear out of nowhere and all Joe has to do is immediately pull the trigger on his weapon and get rid of the body. These unfortunate souls are being sent back through time from 30 years in the future where time travel is illegal; therefore, it has morphed into a black market time travel system run by the mob. Young Joe is paid handsomely to do these simple tasks and spends the rest of his day and most of the night going to a club to drink, dance, take drugs, and spend time with Suzie (Piper Perabo), his favorite lady of the evening.
There are rules to follow though. Since the system is run by the mob, breaking the rules is frowned upon. I will not go into the rules because young Joe does a good job explaining to you what they are. In his film noir, gravelly voice, which is trying to match a young Bruce Willis in style, Joe opens the movie and brings you up to speed on what has been happening with the time travel business and his specific spot on the food chain. He has looper friends with Seth (Paul Dano) as his closest one and he gets called in to see the boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), from time to time. Other than that, young Joe is really running his own loop with his day job and his nightly activities.
Old Joe effectively ends that routine as soon as he pops into the corn field out of thin air. One would think that young Joe would have some questions or would want to cut his older self some slack, but no such luck. Young Joe enjoys his current situation and is in no frame of mind to have it messed with, even if it is a version of him doing the interrupting. Old Joe is on a quest to change the past and does not seem too pleased to run into his former self either. These two are the same man, but they certainly are different people. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really the leading man here because Willis is in more of a supporting role and has noticeably less screen time; however, Bruce still gets top billing on the poster and in the credits. I wonder if that chafes Gordon-Levitt?
Both Gordon-Levitt and Willis are very good here. On one hand, they are playing the same person and must try and match each other's facial ticks and mannerisms, but on the other hand, Gordon-Levitt is playing a kid against Willis's older and yes, wiser, character. Another supporting character is Sara (Emily Blunt) but I leave it to you to discover her role. Sara is saddled with most of the slower scenes in the middle which drag on a bit, but it's good to take a break from Joe, both young and old, after awhile. Looper was written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) who should be commended for sitting down and puzzling through what must have been a very arduous screenplay.
You will not understand the physics of how everything works in Looper (probably because the physics actually don't work), but you don't have to. Let young and old Joe worry about that. You just get the pleasure of sitting back and enjoying an original, thought-provoking, and well made sci-fi, action thriller.