The Lookout gives the typical criminal flick a new look.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
You’ve got to like an actor like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who grew up on camera on TV’s Third Rock From the Son. It’s always refreshing to see a guy who has the freedom to be discriminating about the projects he chooses actually being discriminating. He has, for the most part, taken challenging roles, including Mysterious Skin in 2004 and last year’s high-school noir Brick. Now comes The Lookout, written and directed by longtime screenwriter, first-time director Scott Frank, which adds some nice twists to the standard crime thriller format, and provides Gordon-Levitt with one of his bravest performances to date.
He plays Chris Pratt, a onetime big man on the high school campus who is behind the wheel for a horrific car crash that leaves him with an injured brain and a massive dose of guilt. His potential is all but snuffed out. Now he’s in independent living classes, trying to pull his life together, living with his blind buddy Lewis (Jeff Daniels), and cleaning a rural Kansas bank at night. His mind no longer works the way it once did—he has memory issues. Simple tasks, like opening a can of tomatoes or remembering how much change a bartender owes him, are sometimes beyond him. He is lonely and unhappy, pitied by his family, an easy mark for Gary (Matthew Goode), the smooth criminal who gains his trust, introduces him to the sweet little number Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher), and eventually coaxes him into helping his crew rob the very bank that Chris hopes might bump him up to the teller window one day.
Now, you know early on that this is a crime thriller that will eventually have some nasty twists and turns, but writer/director Frank—who has penned solid crime films like Get Shorty and Out of Sight—makes the movie first and foremost about Chris’ personal shot at redemption. When the violence finally comes, it’s far more stressful than exciting, and even though the end is foreseen, we pull for Chris, hoping he’ll succeed against his own obstacles.
Matthew Goode is actually a suave and amiable Brit, but he turns Gary into unshaved asthmatic malevolence. Jeff Daniels is at his snarky supporting best as Lewis, who has embraced his lack of sight and his outsider status, and one of my favorite character actors, Bruce McGill, is rock solid as ever as Chris’ wealthy, concerned, patronizing father. But this is Gordon-Levitt’s show, and he delivers the emotional goods, turning Chris into a tragic figure we can’t help but feel sorry for even though our pity is the last thing that he wants. The entire package is taut and pensive, wringing the tension out of the audience, who knows that all this can’t end well.
Often, when screenwriters get behind the camera, the results are DOA, but Frank delivers a solid, twitchy debut, filled with dread and cold Kansas frostbite. There are shades of Memento here, but this isn’t a cinematic copycat. We often know what’s coming—the opening sequence, leading up to Chris’ fateful car crash, is gut-wrenching—but by telegraphing his intentions, we can’t wait for him to get where he and Chris are going. The Lookout may not have a good title or glamorous names above it, but it’s easy to see why the actors took the roles. It’s a small film, but it’s unyielding in its tension, showcasing this fine young actor and a promising first time director. Sometimes, crime does pay.
THE LOOKOUT ( * * * ½ )
Directed by Scott Frank. • Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode and Isla Fisher. • R, 99 min. • At the Osio Cinemas.