Lookout, The (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Lookout is an effective little thriller that almost works from taut beginning to unspectacular end. The premise is interesting and the story is developed in such a way that the viewer is engaged throughout. The opening scene hooks us and the movie spends the next 90-plus minutes reeling us in. The ending, however, is where The Lookout's problems arise. The concluding sequences are paradoxically overplotted and underwritten. One character vanishes suddenly and inexplicably while the story engages in a few too easy contrivances in order to wrap things up. I left the theater entertained but not fully satisfied.

The Lookout is the directorial debut of Scott Frank, the respected screenwriter of such notable films as Dead Again, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Minority Report. Frank has learned from the directors who have helmed his films (Branagh, Spielberg, Soderbergh). His style is clear with occasional flashes of art - enough to make the picture visually pleasing while generating sufficient atmosphere to enhance the building tension. Story-wise, however, this is one of Frank's weaker efforts. It's more linear than one has come to expect from the director, and the dialogue lacks the flair of his better screenplays. It's passable, but no more.

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a star high school hockey player with the world at his feet. Like many teenagers, he believes himself to be indestructible until the night when he pushes things too far and is involved in a horrific car accident that leaves him with a brain injury. Four years later, Chris is as recovered as he is likely to be. He has short-term memory issues and has to employ a pocket notebook to keep things straight. He wants desperately to lead a normal life, but he has no girlfriend and his only real buddy is his blind, older roommate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels).

One day at a bar, he encounters Gary (Matthew Goode), a guy who claims to have once dated Chris' sister. The two strike up a friendship. Gary offers Chris two things - a companion who won't judge him and the chance for a hookup with a beautiful ex-stripper named Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher), who's a member of Gary's social circle. These benefits come with a price, however. Gary and his gang intend to rob the bank where Chris works as a janitor, and they want his help. Gary seduces him by stating that "the money is the power," but when a double-cross occurs, Chris takes that phrase to heart.

Thrillers featuring characters with short term memory problems risk being mentioned alongside Memento, and that comparison does not favor The Lookout. This is a less ambitious motion picture with more modest goals. Additionally, Chris's mental deficiencies do not leave him completely incapacitated; he uses notes, clues, and routines to get through the day, but he also doesn't forget events ten minutes after they happen. His impediment is with sequencing memories. Additionally, he has anger management issues and is easily manipulated. Gary uses Chris' resentment toward his father and his desire for sexual fulfillment as recruitment tools.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is compelling as Chris, a kid who's more savvy than almost anyone gives him credit for. In the wake of Brick, The Lookout offers the actor a continued opportunity to break from his TV roots and display his range. As the potential femme fatale, Isla Fisher is adorable but not particularly dark or dangerous, and the loose ends surrounding her character represent one of the movie's obvious flaws. Matthew Goode is delicious as Gary, the guy who can shift from charismatic to vicious in the blink of an eye. The most chilling portrayal comes from Greg Dunham as Bone, Gary's right hand man. He generates dread without saying a word.

In the end, The Lookout works better as a character study than a thriller. Chris' situation is more interesting than the heist, which occupies a surprisingly small portion of the running time. If the crime elements are undercooked, at least the character development is effectively handled. Nevertheless, the movie's anti-climatic resolution in concert with the holes left by the occasionally untidy script result in The Lookout not living up to its promise. Compared to some of Frank's past projects, this is a tepid offering.

Lookout, The (United States, 2007)

Director: Scott Frank
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Jeff Daniels
Screenplay: Scott Frank
Cinematography: Alar Kivil
Music: James Newton Howard
U.S. Distributor: Miramax Films
Run Time: 1:39
U.S. Release Date: 2007-03-30
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1