In the future, time travel will be invented, and almost immediately outlawed, leaving the technology to mobsters who use it to dispose of enemies by sending them back in time 30 years, where they are almost instantly killed by hired guns called loopers. Loopers receive their name from the way their contracts end: at some point, they will kill the older version of themselves, at which point they’ll receive a major payout and retirement for 30 years.

This is the basic premise that opens Looper, writer/director Rian Johnson’s third and most ambitious film. While most movies dealing with time travel run into some serious issues by the end, Looper manages to cleanly close the loop (ha) of its story.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a looper in 2044. When the older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis) is sent back, Joe is unable to close his loop. Joe has to go on the run to hide from his employers while tracking down Old Joe. Old Joe, meanwhile, has to keep his younger self safe in order to stay safe himself, while he tracks down a figure called The Rainmaker, who is responsible for major crimes in the future, including the murder of Old Joe’s wife (Summer Qing). Young Joe ends up hiding out on a farm waiting for Old Joe, where he meets Sara (Emily Blunt), a strong single mom raising her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon).

It’s hard to pigeonhole Looper‘s genre. Looper fits as a sci-fi and action film, but it also includes significant portions of the film that are almost solely character studies. It’s a credit to Johnson that he’s able to balance the various elements, much less make them all work. The story is not one that’s completely unfamiliar, but it’s fashioned in such a way that it feels like nothing seen in theaters in quite some time.

What helps make the story work, aside from Johnson’s significant contributions, are stunning performances from the cast, particularly the three leads. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues a banner year here, with his take on Joe taking on enough characteristics of Bruce Willis (including some significant prosthetics) to feel like he’s legitimately a younger version of Bruce Willis’ Old Joe. Willis, meanwhile, is more than able to show the world-weariness of Joe 30 years down the road. Emily Blunt also does remarkable work with Sara, making her a strong female in a genre (science fiction) that normally doesn’t allow for strong females.

At a time where original stories are fewer and more far between from Hollywood, Looper is one of the best, most original films to get a major release. It’s easily one of the best films of 2012, and it’s definitely worth at least a viewing.

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