Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Lookout

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Scott Frank's The Lookout is a thriller that succeeds because of it's simplicity. The trailer hints at narrative games a la Memento, but the film as a whole is refreshingly concerned with character and story as opposed to cleverness. The result is a rewarding and unpretentious effort for the big-time screenwriter (Out of Sight, Minority Report) turned director.

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a high school hockey star/golden boy. In the film's prologue a showboating Chris crashes his car, killing two friends and maiming his girlfriend. Four years later, a severe head injury sustained in the accident now has Chris struggling to remember the particulars of daily life (what a can opener is, taking keys out of ignition before locking car) while living estranged from his rich family with blind roommate Lewis (a funny and affecting Jeff Daniels).

An encounter in a bar with a seedy acquaintance named Gary (Matthew Goode) gets Chris into a jam, since Gary and his buddies want to rob the bank where Chris works as night janitor. At first Chris is flattered by the attention of new friends, especially the hot ex-stripper Luvlee (Isla Fisher, playing a character who literally runs away halfway through the film for no good reason). The money Gary dangles in front of Chris is a chance to gain a measure of independence from his family and satisfy his desire to open a restaurant with Lewis.

Do these things ever go as planned? The robbery is interrupted by a cop (Sergio Di Zio) whose gunfight with the robbers causes Chris to wind up with the money. Frank stages the robbery and shootout impeccably, and the climax on a desolate highway is carried out with subtle elegance.

I'm really becoming a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick, Mysterious Skin) who gives another in a series of seemingly effortless performances. Chris disability is observed in great detail, both in the way he gets frustrated when something goes wrong and how he uses a small notebook to keep track of things and help himself out of a jam. Chris can be pretty smart when he needs to be; he takes some advice on how to "sequence" events in his memory early in the film and uses it to deal with Gary after the robbery. Chris and Lewis's relationship feels completely believable and lived-in. Jeff Daniels plays Lewis as a mix of surrogate father and conscience.

Isla Fisher of Wedding Crashers makes an ideal femme fatale. The biggest failing in Frank's script is the lack of definition in her relationship to the criminals, and her disappearance at a key point short-circuits some interesting plot possibilities. Still, by trying not to do to much The Lookout speaks volumes to bloated box-office rivals. Go see it.

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