Joseph Gordon-Levitt could have gone down the typical road of most child stars.
Just look at Lindsay Lohan, Macaulay Culkin or any number of other washed-up former stars to see how that story ends.
Instead, Gordon-Levitt quit acting in 2000 on the heels of the highly successful film “10 Things I Hate About You,” co-starring Julia Stiles and the late Heath Ledger.
After four years studying at Columbia University, he decided to return to Hollywood to make movies — but not just any movies.
Gordon-Levitt has said repeatedly that when he returned to the world of acting, he made the decision to only “be in good movies.”
Since then, his track record has been remarkable, with the glaring exception of “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra,” which one has to assume blackmail must have been involved to get him to sign on.
One of the first movies Gordon-Levitt starred in after his return was “Brick,” a modern-day noir film about a high school student who immerses himself in an underground drug ring to figure out who murdered his ex-girlfriend.
This was the first time Gordon-Levitt worked with director Rian Johnson, but it would not be the last.
Johnson and Gordon-Levitt collaborate again in “Looper,” a sci-fi film set in a dystopic future where time travel does not yet exist — but “in thirty years, it will have been.”
Specialized hit men work for a mob boss who cleans up his messes by sending them back in time to be killed.
These assassins, or “loopers,” take the job knowing that eventually, their target will be their future self. Upon “closing their loop,” they get a big payday and thirty years to wait for death to come.
But when Gordon-Levitt’s character sees that his latest target for execution is none other than himself, a split-second pause is all that is needed for his future self to escape.
It is a fascinating premise that led to a lot of hype before the film’s premiere. For once, audiences got a movie that lives up to expectations.
In the midst of a general dumbing-down of movies that Hollywood has subjected audiences to for the past decade, there has been a small number of rebellious films, rejecting the idea that a 21st century audience can only be entertained by massive robots and increasingly ludicrous explosions.
Sci-fi in particular has produced a number of these boundary-breaking movies that harken back to a better era of filmmaking.
Probably the most commercially successful has been Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” in 2010, which was really only funded as a thank-you for “The Dark Knight,” yet went on to gross more than $800 million worldwide, making it one of the highest grossing movies ever.
“Inception,” which featured Gordon-Levitt, proved audiences were willing to deal with a complicated story, provided it was done well.
“Looper” is the latest of these cerebral big-budget movies to really make an impact on audiences and critics.
The film is steeped in a mix of retro and futurism similar to “A Clockwork Orange” with a lavish attention to violence that has you wondering if Quentin Tarantino were involved.
Johnson’s camerawork avoids cheap thrills in favor of letting audiences enjoy the action as it fills up the screen, a bold move in a time when most directors think frequent scene cuts will force the suspense that their plotline cannot provide.
But Johnson, who also wrote the screenplay, created an excellent script and a fantastic cast.
Bruce Willis, fresh off Wes Anderson’s acclaimed “Moonrise Kingdom,” is better than he has been in years as the older version of Gordon-Levitt’s main character, Joe.
Gordon-Levitt, under a mask of make-up to make him look more like Willis, lashes out between numb and ferocious as only a man hunting down his future self can be.
The two work together beautifully, especially in the climatic final scene.
Ultimately, “Looper” is successful because it does not let its own complexity get in the way of the story, an issue that has doomed many promising movies over the years.
Instead, it simply takes the audience on a wild ride and asks only that they pay attention and keep an open mind.
New Releases for Friday October 12: