Joseph Gordon-Levitt as

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s debut film, teen mystery thriller Brick (2005), was Dawson’s Creek meets The Big Sleep. His second, quirky con-men comedy The Brothers Bloom (2008), was The Sting remade by Wes Anderson. What then to make of his third movie, time-travel thriller Looper?

Well, the head-spinning plot borrows elements of Terminator, 12 Monkeys and a host of other sci-fi movies, but Johnson’s individual touch is everywhere apparent, from the hard-boiled noir voice-over to the presence of Brick’s leading man, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the film’s world-weary protagonist.

He’s Joe, a hired gun known as a looper, a well-paid but precarious trade. Joe lives in an economically blighted Kansas in the year 2044 but works for mobsters 30 years hence, who send their victims back in time to be killed by men like him. Hooded and bound, the targets materialise from the future to be dispatched at close quarters by the loopers’ favoured weapon, a blunderbuss. Each looper knows, however, that one day the trussed-up victim will be his future self – and woe betide the hitman who fails to ‘close his loop’.

Bruce Willis in LOOPER

Which is what happens when Joe’s older self turns up, hell-bent on changing the future. The brain-twisting paradoxes that spring from this set-up could keep you puzzling for weeks, but the film’s script and performances deliver more immediate pleasures.

Bruce Willis plays the older Joe and it’s always great to see him wielding a gun and a quip. Gordon-Levitt has been given a prosthetic makeover to play the younger Joe – with mixed results. The makeover doesn’t make him resemble a younger Willis (we already know what that looks like) so much as a funny-looking Gordon-Levitt, but he does get Willis’s mannerisms subtly right.

Down the cast list, Jeff Daniels is winningly cast against type as a cheerfully cynical gangster from the future and Piper Perabo has a small but striking part as a nightclub dancer. Emily Blunt appears later in the story but has a more crucial role as a doughty single mother living on a remote Kansas farm to which the younger and older Joes are inescapably drawn.

Bruised, hard-bitten romantics, they recall the doomed heroes of 1940s and 50s film noir, a resemblance Johnson underscores with self-consciously archaic vocabulary and costumes. The pulp fatalism and retro-future look reminded me of Alan Rudolph’s offbeat 1985 thriller Trouble in Mind. As for Looper itself, you don’t need time-travel to spot a future cult classic.

On general release from Friday 28th September.

[swf]http://uk.player.filmtrailer.com/v3.1/&mid=10024&channel_user_id=441100180-1&repeat=1&volume=0[/swf]

To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.