There’s that old question that everyone encounters at some point: “If you met Adolf Hitler as a child or young man, but you knew what was coming, would you kill him?”

In part, this film poses such a question. Yet it explores the idea that the future may not be predetermined; what if, after all, you instead did something that would change Hitler’s future forever? The movie further speculates whether a person could off his older, time-traveling self, even if the younger self were a paid assassin to begin with.  If time travel were possible, this kind of thinking could blow your mind, right?

It’s all pretty existential, but Looper poses these and other classic conundrums in a fresh and extremely entertaining manner.  As always, the very idea of time travel and its inherent possibilities of paradoxes and loopholes are mind-boggling enough. But this movie also features plenty of shooting, suspense, chases, mutilation, and stuff blowing up (after all, Bruce Willis is in the film).

I’ve liked this film’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, since his days as the hippy-alien kid on Third Rock from the Sun, and I am thrilled to see what an actor’s actor he has become. In Looper, he plays Joe, an assassin who kills people sent to the past by organized criminals thirty years in the future, where time travel has been invented but immediately outlawed. Thus, the criminals have the few, hidden time machines that exist. Their past-era assassins are called loopers, and when the mob wants to retire them, they find their older selves and send them back, with a final payoff, to be permanently retired by their younger selves. Then the younger self is able to spend his remaining thirty years spending his money. But once in a while, a looper just can’t shoot himself, and in this way, a fellow looper learns (from his older self) and tells Joe that there is a very scary and all-powerful mob boss in the future who is retiring all the loopers rapidly. What other dangers does this big kahuna pose?

On top of all that, some people in this “present” (about thirty years from now) have developed a mutation of being mildly kinetic. This mutation plays into the plot twist that emerges on top of the young-Joe-killing-old-Joe conflict.

In addition to a beautifully understated performance by Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt shines as a mother living with her son (the amazing young actor Pierce Gagnon) on an isolated farm. It is Joe’s involvement with Sara and Cid that leads to the ultimate questions of right, wrong, and all the gray areas between.

The director, Rian Johnson, also directed the inventive films Brick (2005), also starring Gordon-Levitt, and The Brothers Bloom (2008), starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz. Looper also features a terrific performance by Jeff Daniels as the “present day” looper-wranger. It all makes for a thrilling and emotionally fraught tale that’s well worth the price of admission!