|The Lookout (2007)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Isla Fisher, Matthew Goode
Director: Scott Frank
In a season ruled by lowbrow comedies and dull action flicks (David Fincher’s “Zodiac” excused), it’s nice to see a film come along that displays even the smallest hint of intelligence. Veteran screenwriter Scott Frank’s directorial debut does just that, and much, much more. One part character study, one part heist film, “The Lookout” is a taut psychological thriller that could have been ripped from the pages of an Elmore Leonard novel. It’s no wonder, either. Frank was the man behind the brilliant adaptations of Leonard’s own “Out of Sight” and “Get Shorty,” and while this particular outing is a completely original creation, the crime writer’s fingerprints are all over it.
No doubt primed to be compared to “Memento” – but unrelated in every way – “The Lookout” tells the tale of Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a former high school star athlete who’s involved in a car crash that renders his basic short-term memory completely useless. Wholly dependent on a pocket notepad containing all of his daily activities, Chris lives with his blind mentor, Lewis (Jeff Daniels), and works as a nighttime janitor at a small bank. In fact, Chris’ days are very much the same; as can be evidenced in the essays that he writes for school: “I wake up. I take a shower, with soap. I eat breakfast.” That is, until he meets Gary (Matthew Goode) at the local bar and is pulled into a plan to rob the very bank he works at.
Very reminiscent of “Fargo” in that it takes place in the kind of sleepy, snow-covered town that criminals probably have circled in permanent marker on their map of Places To Rob, “The Lookout” takes its time in developing the nuanced tale. In fact, while the bank heist may seem like the main attraction of the film, it’s little more than a red herring from the character-driven study of Chris’ gradual acceptance of his new lifestyle. Those looking for some kind of surprise ending will be greatly disappointed, as the movie doesn’t attempt to deceive the viewer with a series of double-crosses and plot twists.
As a result, it’s difficult to look at the film in the same way as you normally would an Elmore Leonard creation. “The Lookout” is just as much a well-paced thriller as the aforementioned “Out of Sight” (or even Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of Leonard’s “Rum Punch”), but what it lacks in energy it makes up for with exceptional performances by its cast of mostly up-and-comers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who might as well start going by the title Prince of the Indie, proves yet again while he’s one of the top young talents in Hollywood, while Jeff Daniels nearly steals the show with his supporting turn as Chris’ blind roommate. Donning a scruffy beard and a pair of dark shades, Daniels is given the juiciest dialogue of the film and, consequently, runs away with every scene he’s in.
Just as Gordon-Levitt’s last flick failed to amuse much more than the usual mob of critics and movie buffs, Scott Frank’s “The Lookout” also wasn’t crafted with the mainstream crowd in mind. Indie-minded moviegoers will no doubt eat up every minute of the grossly engaging thriller, and it might even be one of the best films of 2007, but in an age where moviegoers demand bloated A-list marquees over first-rate filmmaking, “The Lookout” might as well not even exist. And for that, you should all be ashamed.
Though it’s not much, the special features on the single-disc release of “The Lookout” are more than enough for a film whose theatrical release was embarrassingly short-lived. The commentary with writer/director Scott Frank and DP Alar Kivilo is very technical, yet nonetheless enjoyable, while the 20-minute “Sequencing the Lookout” offers an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. Also included is a short interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt on his character (“Behind the Mind of Chris Pratt”) that – if not already – will really make you respect the kid as an actor.