"Thirty years from now is yesterday, and I can remember it."
This line from "Looper" gives an idea of the mental gymnastics involved in the movie's time-travel storyline.
But the sentence is poetic, too - and that's appropriate; because while this movie has a gripping plot and lots of action, it's loaded with heart and soul as well.
This film image, released by Sony Pictures, shows Joseph Gordon-Levitt, foreground, and Paul Dano in a scene from the action thriller “Looper.”
In fact, "Looper" is terrific; if it weren't for too much gore and some gratuitous nudity, I could easily have given it four stars.
The film is set in 2044, where hit-men work for a crime syndicate that sends them targets from the future.
Turns out that in 2074, murdered corpses are tough to dispose of; so with the recent invention of time travel, bad guys blindfold their victims and send them back in time to well-paid assassins ("loopers"), who kill them and burn the bodies.
The film's protagonist is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a looper who one day finds that his intended victim is an older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis).
This sounds a trifle gimmicky, but it's only the beginning of a plot that is thrillingly complex, yet fairly easy to follow.
As long as you don't think too much.
As in most time-travel tales, the logistics of changing the past and future become overwhelming at times; but the movie's dialog wisely counsels us not to dwell on this.
Ask too many questions, says Willis in one diner scene, "and we'll be here all day, making diagrams with straws."
Yet "Looper's" strongest feature is the way it moves beyond twisty plotting and into the realm of love and humanity - particularly as Willis's Joe lambasts his younger self for being so selfish and ruthless.
Yet the older Joe shows these qualities too; and as the story twines around a young woman masterfully played by Emily Blunt, "Looper" evolves into a meditation on how violence begets violence - and how love, especially motherhood and self-sacrifice, is the one thing that can short-circuit this cycle.
The movie's other strength is the delicious fun of watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt play Bruce Willis.
According to the closing credits, it took three or four make-up artists to give this lean, wavy-haired actor - so good as Blake in "Dark Knight Rises" - the physique and facial structure of his older counterpart; but there's more to the transformation than that.
Gordon-Levitt masters all those mannerisms Bruce's fans have come to love - the squint, the smirk, the raised eyebrow, the focused earnestness, the slight stiffness, the bemused disbelief. At times, he's better at playing Willis than Willis is.
Then, when the veteran finally shows up - with the more seasoned and thoughtful demeanor of someone 30 years older - we get to watch two different versions of the same character interacting with each other.
Believe me, this is a thoroughly satisfying movie - poignant, thoughtful, smart, exciting, beautifully filmed and with a letter-perfect ending.
But if you want it to make perfect sense, bring some straws.