Scott Frank’s The Lookout is a film where every turn of plot, exchange of dialogue, set piece and stylistic choice just seems to mesh flawlessly, resulting in a package that’s nearly as perfect as you can get. Part psychological character study, part crime thriller, sewn together lovingly by threads of brilliantly written, intelligent interpersonal drama that seems lived in, the writer never uses the pen to pander nor patronize, but provides well drawn, realistic human beings who sound like actual people and not archetypes dwelling within the pages, never fully realized. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Chris Pratt (not actual Chris Pratt lol) a young hotshot who becomes the victim of his own cocky, self destructive behaviour. After a horrific car accident that was entirely his fault, his girlfriend is left maimed and he a busted up shell of his former self, saddled with bushels of brain damage and the inability to cohesively live his day to day life the way he did before. It’s some sort of synapse frying neurological scarring that’s never fully explained, but the symptoms are clearly and fascinatingly outlined in a way that no other film has really tried before. He’s left somewhat adrift in life, naively attracted to his foxy psychiatrist (Carla Gugino), misunderstood by his parents (Bruce McGill & Alberta Watson), and cared for by his eccentric, blind and motor-mouthed roommate (Jeff Daniels, a standout as always). He happens to be from a small midwestern town though, and in movie land these burgs are almost always filled with schemes, heists, double crosses and feed store robberies. ‘Bro seduced’ by an equally suave and shady dude (Matthew Goode, whose work here lives up to that surname and then some), Chris is shanghaied into assisting in the hold up of the very bank he works at, and soon the kind of hell that would make the Coen brothers applaud breaks loose. Everything makes sense though, the jigsaw pieces of the narrative nestling flush against one another, not a beat feeling out of place or in danger of derailing the whole thing. That’s not the easiest thing to achieve, especially in a taught running time that clocks in under two hours and still manages to feel substantial. Levitt is terrific, a guy who used to be in control, used to be revered as the alpha who takes care of things, his condition worsened by the knowledge that people know full well how broken he is. The stakes are inherently high when someone that set back by life must navigate their way through the complex ins and outs of pulling off a bank heist. One hell of a film.
With his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Out of Sight, Scott Frank demonstrated a knack for crime thrillers with plenty of plot twists and double crosses. He finally got the chance to direct his own film and the result was The Lookout (2007), a neo-noir that evokes other crime movies like Charley Varrick (1973) and Fargo (1996).
Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young hockey player with a promising career that is snuffed out in an instant thanks to a car accident that he caused. Four years later, he’s working as a night janitor at a local Midwestern bank located out in the middle of nowhere and dealing with a head injury from the accident. He has to write down everything that he does to get ready every day. His old life is gone and his new one is one mundane day after another. Chris now lives with Lewis (Jeff Daniels), his blind roommate who helps the young man out with things around their apartment.
Chris meets Gary (Matthew Goode) at a bar one night. He’s a genial guy who befriends the young man over beers. Chris also meets a beautiful young woman named Luvlee (Isla Fisher) who is friends with Gary. They quickly go to work on Chris, Gary appealing to his brain and Luvlee to his heart. They make him feel like he belongs, which is important to him because his family doesn’t know how to relate to him anymore. Pretty soon Gary tells Chris about a bank heist he plans to pull with his buddies. The bank that they are targeting just happens to be the one that Chris works at. Gary dangles the proverbial carrot in front of Chris with the promise of money and the power that comes with it. He is very persuasive and knows exactly which buttons to push. Like most heist films, things do not go according to plan and the rest of the film deals with the aftershocks.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his knack for offbeat roles. He does a great job portraying someone with neurological damage and the frustration that comes from not being able to do simple things like opening a can of food or remembering someone’s name. He also conveys the guilt his character feels over the car accident that cost two of his friends their lives and robbed him of a promising future. We see how he tries to hide his disorder and the frustration of not being able to do basic things. It’s a performance grounded in realism that is in contrast to this stylized noir world. It doesn’t hurt that he is surrounded by cold, detached characters, and this makes him very sympathetic as well.
Jeff Daniels steals pretty much every scene he’s in as Chris’ genial roommate. The actor displays a dry sense of humor that is very funny to see in action. He and Gordon-Levitt’s character make for very unlikely roommates to say the least but the two actors make it work thanks to the excellent chemistry they have together. Along with The Squid in the Whale (2005) and Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Daniels is turning out to be quite an excellent character actor appearing in several well-made independent films.
Frank has a keen visual sense, adopting a predominantly dark color scheme in keeping with the neo-noir tradition. He has crafted a clever little thriller with a fascinating protagonist at its center. What could have easily been a forgettable film is anchored by yet another riveting performance by Gordon-Levitt.