Imagine A bloated, beached whale of a Hollywood producer, reclining in a swivel chair with a cigar the size of an Ohakune carrot in his jaws, and film-maker Rian Johnson standing before him pitching the following plot summary: It's 2044, and time travel hasn't been invented yet, but it will be in another 30 years' time.
It will be swiftly adopted by the mafia of the time as an efficient way of disappearing their enemies, sending them back three decades to be executed by a squad of hitmen called "loopers".
The catch for the well-paid loopers is that, eventually, they will be asked to execute their future selves to "close the loop" and ensure no questionable future associations for their mafia bosses.
But what if one of these loopers escapes? Oh, and there's a love interest, and a jaundiced crime boss, and a kid with special powers and...
That this dystopian time-travel, cat-and-mouse tale with liberal borrowings from The Terminator, Back to the Future, Total Recall and Carrie was made, let alone became this coherent, gripping and rather well-shot thriller is testament to both Mr Johnson's sales skills and his writing ability.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe Simmons, a looper who fails to murder his future self - Bruce Willis - who has come back with the intention of murdering a small boy who will become a future mafioso. Gordon-Levitt is excellent. While extensive makeup helps, he has nailed Willis's speech and mannerisms; Willis himself is good, in keeping with his other well- chosen late career work, while Jeff Daniels produces a well-judged cameo as a time-travelling crime boss.
The interplay between Gordon- Levitt and Willis is the heart of the film, and a love-interest with Emily Blunt slows the breakneck pace a little too much, but the plotting is otherwise smart, wisely swerving too much detail about the mechanisms of time-travel, with Willis explaining to Gordon-Levitt that they could talk all day about it and still not understand. But there are no glaring holes in the logic and Johnson exploits the possibilities a couple of times to shocking effect.
And while the science bits are evaded, Johnson has thought deeply about everything else: his grand vision of the year 2044 has hoverbikes and telekinesis but also sweeping, despairing poverty, its own fashion and vocabulary, all etched in tiny detail to produce a convincing new world.
This is an ambitious, intelligent film which will appeal beyond its genre; indeed, it already has, becoming the first sci-fi film to open the Toronto film festival in 37 years.
Runtime: 118 minutes
Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
- Sunday Star Times