There is something a little bit thrilling about watching a film like “The Lookout”. It isn’t necessarily the fact that it is a good film, and it is. Pretty darn good as a matter of fact. “The Lookout” is thrilling because of the potential it promises for three of the principals involved. But more on that later.
Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the terrific, but difficult to watch “Mysterious Skin” and “Brick” which was difficult to watch for entirely different reasons), a high school hockey champion, out joyriding with his girlfriend, Kelly, and his best friend and his girlfriend on Prom Night when a terrible accident happens. Four years later, Chris has brain trauma suffered from the crash and has difficulty with his short term memory. He lives with Lewis (Jeff Daniels), a blind man who works as a telemarketer and helps to provide a sort of guiding voice to Chris as the former star athlete tries to make sense of his new school, where they spend many hours trying to rehabilitate their memory facilities. To help, Chris writes down extensive notes in a small notebook he carries at all times. Chris has a job cleaning a small town bank at night and struggles with trying to meet woman at a local bar. One night, Gary (Matthew Goode, “Matchpoint”), an old high school acquaintance, but a few years ahead, runs into him and they quickly become friends. Chris is attracted to Luvlee (Isla Fischer, “Wedding Crashers”), one of Gary’s entourage, and they are soon making out. Just as Chris’ life seems to be turning around, he learns why Gary is so interested in being his friend. He wants to rob the bank Chris works at, just as the vault is filled up to cash all of the farmer subsidy checks.
Written and directed by Scott Frank (who penned the screenplays for “Minority Report”, “Get Shorty” and many other memorable films), “The Lookout” is a very good film. Because it is so good, it is difficult to write about in any length. There are only so many ways you can say something is good, before becoming repetitive and boring. The story is tightly plotted and makes sense, there is never a false move or moment. All of the characters are interesting, consistent and believable. We like the ones we are supposed to like and we dislike the bad ones, but even these characters have different, varying degrees of their personalities. Each character has some complexity to them, making them seem all the more real. The heist is interesting and well planned. And finally, there are many touches throughout which may seem like throwaway moments, but serve to figure in the overall story. This is one well-written and well-directed film.
This is one of the reasons “The Lookout” is so exciting. To be honest, I would be surprised if the screenplay for this film were anything but good. Frank is one of a handful of screenwriters working in Hollywood who attract the attention of big name directors like Steven Spielberg and Steven Soderbergh. His name gets them to read his screenplays because they know his work will most likely be very strong. But “The Lookout” is Frank’s directorial debut and it is a very strong first entry. If his first film is this good, I can’t wait to see how good his fifth, tenth and twentieth films are. What “The Lookout” promises are films that will be created with care and skill, providing many memorable moments in the multiplex ahead.
In “The Lookout”, Frank spends a significant amount of time establishing the rhythms of Chris’ life. This isn’t necessarily the fastest way to get us involved in the story, or to get the action moving, but Frank realizes that if we know a lot about the characters, we will be more invested in everything that follows. We listen as Chris builds his list of activities for the day, stopping and correcting himself many times in the process. This is important for us to know because it helps establish his character and becomes an important part of the reason for some of his decisions throughout the story. It also helps to make us a part of Chris’ mind, we begin to see the world through his eyes, experience Kansas City as he does.
As we meet the people in his life, we wonder how they will play into the rest of the story. Because Frank is such a gifted screenwriter, all of these relationships do factor into the story at some point. The real key is these moments are very subtle and don’t telegraph their connection immediately.
The second exciting thing about “The Lookout” is the promise of the two leads. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has now appeared in two very good films, the first was “Mysterious Skin” in which he played a gay hustler. That was a difficult film to watch because some of the more graphic scenes depict crimes some adults commit on children and teenagers. It was also a little seen film for the same reasons. He followed this up with “Brick”, an interesting, but very flawed attempt to make a modern day Noir film featuring teenagers and young adults playing with guns and committing crimes. Unfortunately, it too often felt like we were watching a high school play. Now, “The Lookout”. As I watched this film, I was even more amazed when I briefly remembered where Gordon-Levitt first became a star. He was one of the stars of the John Lithgow sitcom “Third Rock from the Sun”, which is also responsible for propagating the terror that is French Stewart on the American consciousness. As I remembered this, I also remembered another actor, now very famous, and almost revered by many, who also got his start on a dubious sitcom. As I made this connection, I realized Gordon-Levitt is following the career path of Leonardo DiCaprio. That said, I can’t wait to see the actor he develops into. Much like DiCaprio, he shows a lot of skill and I have no doubt that he will one day become the icon DiCaprio is. It is exciting to be able to spot the next actor of that caliber.
Gordon-Levitt never has a false moment as Chris Pratt. He is quietly confident and enjoying life when he is the star of the high school hockey team. After his accident, he struggles to remember to take his car keys out of the ignition. Thankfully, he always has an extra key hidden in his shoe. After the accident, he can’t exactly control what he says, so he has difficulty finding a date. During a meeting with his counselor (Carla Gugino), he blurts out his true feelings, something a normal person’s inner voice would edit before saying out loud. Throughout, he appears confused by the simplest things in life, perplexing his every moment.
Matthew Goode is equally as good as Gary, the new friend in Chris’ life. Goode is perhaps best known as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers handsome brother-in-law in Woody Allen’s “Matchpoint”. If I didn’t tell you this, you would never have recognized him. His American accent is flawless and his looks are completely different. Beyond that, Gary is a real piece of work. His eyes are always open, his ears are always listening for the weakness in any person he comes into contact with, and he tries to use that.
These are the three reasons “The Lookout” is especially exciting as a film. And any other movie would be glad to have any one of these people involved. But beyond this initial group, everyone else is also very good. Did I mention that Jeff Daniels is in the film? He plays Lewis, Chris’ blind roommate and friend. During the film, he reveals that he and Chris are planning on opening a breakfast and lunch diner in an old gas station. During an interview, Lewis confidently reveals their plans to the loan officer while Chris sits silently, awaiting the inevitable rejection. Throughout, Lewis plays an integral part of the story, in subtle and not so subtle ways.
Isla Fischer (Vince Vaughn’s randy girlfriend in “Wedding Crashers”), plays Luvlee, the object of Chris’ affection and the pawn who brings him into the plot. Bruce McGill plays Chris’ rich, supportive, yet condescending father.
After I saw “The Lookout”, I was talking to my dad on the phone, telling him about the film, and he remarked “I haven’t heard you this excited about a film in a long time”.
How true, how true.