Movie review by Greg Carlson
Veteran screenwriter Scott Frank makes a strong feature directorial debut with “The Lookout,” a crime caper/character study unafraid to echo stylish influences including “Fargo” and “Memento.” Frank is best known for having adapted “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight,” and his background research in a variety of forms of delinquency and malfeasance pays off, even though “The Lookout” is not likely to reap huge profits in its theatrical run. “The Lookout” largely skips the self-consciously cute humor present in the Elmore Leonard transformations, but Frank makes certain to include a healthy dose of sarcastic wit, mainly supplied by Jeff Daniels in a sharp supporting turn.
Working with a clear understanding of the value of character, Frank takes ample time to introduce the audience to Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a former high school hockey star whose bright future evaporated following a devastating car accident. Dealing with the aftermath of a massive head injury, Chris struggles to make sense of simple tasks that so many take for granted; a small notebook allows him to keep track of sequences that he would otherwise mix up. Even with his pencil and paper system, Chris routinely locks his keys in his car and is tormented trying to locate the can opener. Only the presence of blind roommate Lewis (Daniels) appears to provide anything resembling a calming effect.
The numbing repetition of Chris’ highly regulated schedule is interrupted by the appearance of Gary (Matthew Goode, unrecognizable as the actor who appeared in “Match Point”), a smooth talker who claims to have known Chris some years ago. Gary is a born predator, exploiting the frustration Chris feels regarding the loss of his glory days. Along with a posse of shady colleagues, and a helping hand from the seductive Luvlee (Isla Fisher), Gary railroads Chris into aiding and abetting the thieves during their break-in at the bank where Chris works nights. To say more would be to say too much, and “The Lookout” pays nice dividends once the heist gets underway.
Frank takes notice of all the players in his cast, and despite the unexplained disappearance of one supporting character, the ensemble is colorful and lively. Goode and Fisher are both aces, and Daniels shoplifts every scene in which he figures prominently. As a friendly nightshift deputy, Sergio Di Zio plays several fine scenes with the star. Gordon-Levitt anchors the whole enterprise, and following his notable work in “Brick” and “Mysterious Skin,” continues to create a compelling argument that he is one of the bright lights of his peer group.
Frank merely hints at some of the possible paths that “The Lookout” might have taken. Carla Gugino, playing Chris’ social worker, should have been included in an additional handful of scenes beyond what amounts to a fleeting cameo appearance. The relationship between Chris and his wealthy family piques viewer interest, but Frank chooses not to spend any more than the minimum amount of time exploring the emotional scars that exist between Chris and his father, played by the always capable Bruce McGill. Despite its small flaws, however, “The Lookout” is a smartly made movie completely at home in Frank’s carefully constructed world.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 4/30/07.