Movie Review by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by: Scott Frank
Written by: Scott Frank
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Isla Fisher
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated R for language, some violence
and sexual content..
"...this is a lean,
to-the-bone, expertly acted small-town noir that takes
unusual care to cast the moral compass of its characters
in various shades of gray"
With the crime genre still struggling to
work through its post-Tarantino hangover, The Lookout is maybe more
notable for what it isn't: namely, bloated, flashy, or dependent on
pop-culture riffs as a life-support system. The directorial debut of
ace Elmore Leonard adapter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Get Shorty),
this is a lean, to-the-bone, expertly acted small-town noir that
takes unusual care to cast the moral compass of its characters in
various shades of gray. There's just no fat on it.
The phrase "quiet and contemplative" is not often used to describe
bank-heist movies, but "The Lookout" is not an ordinary bank-heist
movie. In fact, its misleading advertisements to the contrary, it's
not really a bank-heist movie at all. It's a character study, and a
rich, rewarding one at that. And yeah, OK, there's a bank heist,
too. But the movie is not ABOUT the bank heist! If you go in looking
for an "Ocean's Eleven"-style crime caper, you will be bored and
disappointed, and that is not the effect "The Lookout" should have
The place is Kansas City, the time is now. Four years ago, Chris
Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a talented high school hockey player,
was in a car accident with three friends. Two of them were killed.
Chris came out of it with some brain damage. He can walk and talk
and function more or less normally, but he has episodes of
forgetfulness, or he'll get mental blocks: "I call tomatoes
'lemons,' even though I know that's wrong." He carries a card with
him to let people know that he suffered a massive head injury and
might, therefore, occasionally say inappropriate things, or begin
crying for no reason, or forget where he parked his car.
Chris lives with a blind man named Lewis (Jeff Daniels), also an
accident victim, and goes to therapy to help him with his mental
acuity. He's learning to get by on a system of "ritual, pattern, and
repetition." If you always do things the same way, then it won't
matter if you have occasional memory lapses because your
subconscious will know what to do. His life is a series of habits,
and that's how he's able to work 90 minutes away at a small-town
bank, where he's the night janitor. He wants to be a teller someday.
The bank manager (David Huband) keeps saying he'll think about it.
He's a kind man, but he's cautious. Chris' injuries have made him
The bank manager isn't the only one who is uncertain how to deal
with Chris. Deputy Ted (Sergio Di Zio), the aw-shucks Midwestern cop
who stops by each night to bring Chris doughnuts and chat for a few
minutes, treats him as though he were mentally retarded. Chris'
wealthy parents (Bruce McGill and Alberta Watson) help him
financially and love him as much as ever, yet they remain cautious
around him. Dad still wants to play chess with him, unable to accept
that Chris' brain can't handle the complexities of the game well
enough to be a decent player. It's a little heartbreaking.
Chris has been urged by his case worker (Carla Gugino) to try to
meet women and develop more of a social life. He's in a bar one
night, trying to do just that, when he runs into Gary Spargo
(Matthew Goode). Gary says he dated Chris' older sister a few times
and was a couple years ahead of him in school. Chris doesn't
remember, but that's OK; Chris doesn't remember a lot of things.
Gary invites Chris to hang out with his crowd, a bunch of layabouts
and slackers who associate with loose women and drink a lot of beer.
One of the women, Luvlee (Isla Fisher), takes a particular liking to
After several days of Chris' new friendship with Gary's group, Gary
lets him in on a secret: They're going to rob Chris' bank, and they
want Chris to help. He says no, of course, but then Gary makes some
good points. The bank doesn't take Chris seriously. Chris has very
little financial freedom himself, with his low-paying job and his
small allowance from his parents. Whoever has money has power, Gary
says. Chris was influential and popular before the accident; now
he's a nobody, pitied or avoided by most people. If he had money,
he'd have power again.
That's where the bank heist comes in, but trust me, the details of
it aren't the point. This is a film about choices and consequences,
about dealing with the past while looking ahead to the future, and
at the heart of it is an outstanding performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Who knew the kid from "3rd Rock from the Sun," now 26 years old,
would turn out to be one of the best actors of his generation? "The
Lookout" rests entirely on his ability to make us sympathize with
Chris without pitying him, to make us like him even though that
fatal car accident was the result of his own recklessness. Gordon-Levitt
commands sympathy, affection, and understanding, perfectly executing
the role without resorting to maudlin or sentimental tactics.
It's the directorial debut from Scott Frank, a talented screenwriter
who has penned such noteworthy titles as "Get Shorty," "Minority
Report," and "Out of Sight" (for which he was Oscar-nominated).
Those were all adaptations; "The Lookout" proves he can write
marvelous material from scratch, too, and his smooth, confident
direction suggests he was paying attention when his previous
screenplays were directed by experts like Spielberg and Soderbergh.
"The Lookout" has many quiet moments, giving us space to think about
what's been said, and to realize that the screenplay has been
carefully constructed so that nothing is irrelevant. There are no
throwaway scenes or extraneous characters. Everything is part of the
whole, contributing to the poignant melancholy and yearning that
characterize the film. The more I think about it, the more I'm
touched by it.
THE LOOKOUT ©
2007 Miramax Films.
All Rights Reserved
Review © 2007 Alternate Reality, Inc.