Tag Archives: Scott Frank

Scott Frank’s A Walk Among The Tombstones

These days when a film with Liam Neeson comes down the pipeline you can generally have a good idea what it’ll be about in our post-Taken era. Revenge, chases, gunfights, he’s usually in his old dude action pic groove but there’s the odd one that strays from the flock. Scott Frank’s A Walk Among The Tombstones, although encasing a few quick, breathless action scenes in its narrative, is far from the kind of film we’re used to seeing from Neeson and as a result is one of my favourites he’s done since Joe Carnahan’s The Grey.

Chilly, brutal, bloody, realistically violent and unrelentingly dark are the energies this thing traffics in. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a shambling ex cop turned private eye with some demons in his past that don’t quite hold a candle to the outright malevolence he must face this time round. He’s contacted by a shady mid level drug baron (Dan Stevens) whose wife has gone missing, and who chooses him over the cops because of their collective unique business ventures. This leads our antihero down an increasingly dangerous and suffocatingly scary on the hunt for two serial killers (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) who are the distilled definition of pure evil.

I’ll be frank and upfront here: this is not a pleasant viewing experience or an uplifting film, in fact it’s downright oppressive in tone and for the most part emotionally desolate. However, there’s a stark beauty to this tale and I wouldn’t let the darkness deter you from experiencing one of the best and most atmospheric and suspenseful crime thrillers in recent years. Neeson is grim, haunted and adept at doling out graphic bodily harm on anyone who prevents him from getting to the truth. The two killers, Harbour in particular, are unrepentant, sadistic monsters who you just pray will be stopped before committing another murder and making you sit through the specifics of it which the film does make you do in one instance. Stevens comes from a Downton Abbey background but there’s a fierce, implosive aura to him that works great in darker roles like this (check out his work in The Guest too). This is based on one in a series of books by Lawrence Block that all focus on Scudder’s character. Jeff Bridges played the role once back in the day in another adaptation too, but Neeson makes a fierce predator out of him, with a hidden humanity that comes forth in interactions with a street kid (Brian Bradley) who becomes his sidekick of sorts. A very overlooked film in Neeson’s filmography and just in general as well. Oh and how about those eerie, sinister opening credits for setting the tone ?

-Nate Hill

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Scott Frank’s The Lookout


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.  

-Nate Hill

THE LOOKOUT – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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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.

OUT OF SIGHT – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

“It’s like seeing someone for the first time. You can be passing on the street and you look at each other and for a few seconds there’s this kind of recognition. Like you both know something, and the next moment the person’s gone. And it’s too late to do anything about it. And you always remember it because it was there and you let it go. And you think to yourself, what if I stopped? What if I said something? What if?” – Jack Foley

This bit of dialogue from Out of Sight (1998) perfectly captures the essence of the relationships between the characters in this film. It is about the what ifs and the what could have beens. What the characters do and, more importantly, what they don’t do that directly determines their fate.

As the film begins, Jack Foley (George Clooney), a career bank robber, escapes from a Florida prison with the help of his loyal accomplice Buddy (Ving Rhames). In the heat of the moment they kidnap a beautiful Federal Marshall named Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). She and Jack are stuffed in the trunk of her car as they make a hasty retreat. Trapped in such a small, confined space Jack and Karen have nothing to do but engage in idle chitchat. Even though they are on completely opposite sides of the law there’s a spark, an initial attraction that blossoms into something more as the film progresses and their paths inevitably cross again.

Out of Sight
is based on the book of the same name by Elmore Leonard. He had wanted to do a bank robber story for a long time. Several years ago, he saw “a picture in the Detroit News of an attractive young woman who was a Federal Marshal standing in front of the Federal Courthouse in Miami. She held a shotgun which was resting on her cocked hip and as soon as I saw that picture, I knew it was a book.” Danny DeVito bought the rights to a previous Leonard book Get Shorty for his production company Jersey Films. After the success of that film, he bought the rights to Out of Sight.

The film came to George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh at a time when both of their careers had reached a critical junction. Clooney was coming off the commercial and critical train wreck known as Batman and Robin (1997). Soderbergh had completely shunned the mainstream with the one-two punch of Gray’s Anatomy (1996) and Schizopolis (1996). Both men were looking for a hit that would put them back on the map. Soderbergh had already made two films for Universal and one of its executives, Casey Silver, offered him Out of Sight with Clooney attached. Soderbergh was close to making another project and was going to pass but Silver told him, “These things aren’t going to line up very often, you should pay attention.”

Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank achieve a perfect mix with Out of Sight. The film’s pace moves with effortless ease and self-confidence. They know when to slow things down and savor the moment as well. As Frank proved with his excellent screenplay for Get Shorty (1995), he perfectly understands Leonard’s distinctive cadence and the speech patterns of his characters. Cinematic adaptations of books are almost always inferior because so much has to be cut out or changed to fit into a two-hour film. However, Leonard’s books are tailor-made for movie adaptations because they are very visual and almost entirely dialogue and character-driven — ideal for the screenplay format. Out of Sight is one of those rare movies that is actually better than the book.

Soderbergh and his cameraman, Elliot Davis (White Oleander), paint their film with a specific color code. The bright colors of the Florida scenes — especially the prison sequences with vibrant blue and the bright yellow prison uniforms worn by various characters — provide a nice contrast to the second half of the film, which consists mainly of a gun-metal blue color scheme. The Detroit scenes have a cold, metallic feel to them and this really comes out. David Holmes’ catchy R&B score comes in and instantly transports the viewer into this world. He mixes in his own brand of funky electronica with old school tunes from the likes of the Isley brothers and Willie Bobo. From the atmospheric noises in the background to Holmes’ superb trip hop beats, this is a great sounding film.

After a string of so-so films, George Clooney finally found the right project that suited his particular talents with Out of Sight. With his movie star good looks and suave charm, he is perfectly cast as the smooth talking criminal. This may be his finest performance to date. For Clooney what attracted him to this role was the chance to play a character that evoked his cinematic heroes of the past. “When I was growing up the heroes for me were the bankrobbers — you know, the Cagneys and the Bogarts, Steve McQueen and all those guys, the guys who were kind of bad and you still rooted for them. And when I read this, I thought, This guy is robbing a bank but you really want him to get away with it.” Clooney’s style of acting is perfect for this role as he plays Foley with the right amount of laid-back charm. This is typified by his character’s introduction — the most pleasant, non-violent bank robbery ever committed to film. Clooney has such a likable screen presence that you want to see his character succeed.

Conversely, Jennifer Lopez is his perfect foil as a smart, tough law enforcement officer who can’t help but fall in love with this charismatic criminal. She is a very attractive woman but not above wielding a shotgun to apprehend a fugitive. There is a genuine chemistry between the two actors that makes their romance work. And it is this relationship that gives Out of Sight its depth. There is more to this film than snappy banter and a hip soundtrack. Incredibly, Sandra Bullock was originally considered to play Karen Sisco opposite Clooney, however Soderbergh said, “What happened was I spent some time with [Clooney and Bullock] – and they actually did have a great chemistry. But it was for the wrong movie. They really should do a movie together, but it was not Elmore Leonard energy.” Someone must’ve listened as the two ended up acting opposite each other years later in Gravity (2013).

A killer cast supports the two lead actors. Steve Zahn, an underrated character actor, is perfect as Glen, a stoner screw-up who looks up to Jack but is a royal pain in the ass. Dennis Farina plays Karen’s laid-back dad who buys his daughter a handgun for her birthday and just wants to see her married to a lawyer or a doctor. Albert Brooks is Richard Ripley, a bumbling white-collar criminal type who is in way over his head and sports a truly awful toupee. Don Cheadle plays “Snoopy” Miller, a tough guy-wannabe that is a classic schoolyard bully. Rounding this cast out is Ving Rhames, Jack’s tough, God-fearing partner in crime who always has his friend’s back.

Despite its lackluster performance at the box office, Out of Sight received widespread critical praise. It was clearly a career turning point for both Clooney and Soderbergh. The actor said in an interview that “Out of Sight was the first time where I had a say, and it was the first good screenplay that I’d read where I just went, ‘That’s it.’ And even though it didn’t do really well box office-wise — we sort of tanked again — it was a really good film.” Clooney went on to success with O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and Ocean’s Eleven (2001). Soderbergh saw Out of Sight as “a very conscious decision on my part to try and climb my way out of the arthouse ghetto which can be as much of a trap as making blockbuster films. And I was very aware that at that point in my career, half the business was off limits to me.” The film’s critical reaction gave Soderbergh a foothold in Hollywood that led to the commercial success of Erin Brockovich (1999) and Oscar gold with Traffic (2000).

Out of Sight
is a film about making choices and taking chances despite the sometimes inevitable, painful consequences. It is also an entertaining look at a collection of colorful characters and the exciting world they inhabit. This is a smart, sexy and wonderfully stylish crime thriller that was ignored by audiences (due to lousy advertising and an even worse release date) but garnered strong critical reaction (winding up on many Best Of lists that year). Fortunately, Out of Sight has been re-discovered on home video and recognized as one of the best Elmore Leonard adaptations ever put to film.