The Lookout (review)

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This Is a Robbery

There’s a moment early on in The Lookout when Our Hero, Chris Pratt, is simply trying to make a very basic dinner for himself and his roommate. And he can’t find the can opener he needs to keep the process moving. Processes are a problem for him: Chris is coping with the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury that left his memory a sieve and that all-important brake of the frontal lobe less than reliable, and the ordinary chores of day-to-day living are often a challenge for him, not to mention the usual young man’s work of wooing attractive young women. And eventually, and inevitably, this dinner-making attempt collapses into chaos and frustration and no-dinner.
It’s a fascinating moment, in fact, because Chris is portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has emerged as one of the more captivating young actors of the moment, and he makes Chris an unforgettable morass of exasperation, stick-to-it-iveness, and unlikely charm. You may remember Joe as “that kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun,” but you probably haven’t seen him in any of the several highly intriguing roles he’s played in recent years in under-the-radar indies like Mysterious Skin and Brick. Here, in his highest-profile performance as an adult — this is the first wide release he’s appeared in recently — he is poised to blow away thinking moviegoers with his hugely appealing combination of Keanu Reeves’ quirky good looks, Tobey Maguire’s engaging mopiness, and a Johnny Depp-esque hunger for offbeat, demanding roles. Gordon-Levitt looks like the next big thing who actually deserves to be big, and I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

Hopefully, he’ll move on to films that are more completely deserving of his unique talents than this one.

Oh, I hate to say that. I wanted to love The Lookout unreservedly, because it’s the directorial debut of screenwriter Scott Frank, who wrote the scripts for Out of Sight and Get Shorty — two of the most antisocially enchanting films of recent years. But you know what? Those films were based on novels by Elmore Leonard, and it seems that working in his own realm — Frank wrote this script, too, and it’s his own original story — Frank can’t quite get it together. The marketing of The Lookout — the trailers and the TV ads — would like you think that this is some sort of crime caper like those other Frank scripts, and Frank seems to think that’s where things are most interesting too: he plops Chris into the middle of a bank heist pulled off by an opportunistic nitwit (Matthew Goode: Imagine Me and You, Chasing Liberty) who sees the chance to take advantage of Chris’s disability and the fact that he works as a night janitor at a small, local bank in their backwoods Nebraska town.

But the bank-robbery stuff feels tacked on, almost incidental to the portrait of resilience and recovery at the core of The Lookout. The first half of the film concerns itself, compellingly so, with the minutiae of Chris’s life, of his triumph of getting through every day when he has to remind himself to shave and brush his teeth, when he can’t find the can opener hiding in plain sight; with his contentious relationship with the aforementioned roommate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels: Infamous, RV), a blind man his life-skills clinic set him up with; with his collapsing relationship with his privileged family, who seem to think that Chris has rather let down the side and embarrassed the family by getting himself all brain-damaged. By the time the heist stuff takes over the second half of the film, it feels like a distraction: we like Chris, really like him, and not only don’t want to see him get used as he does — oh, you want to just take him aside and hug him, let him know he doesn’t need the weird affirmation that this antisocial behavior seems to be giving him — but we really are perfectly content to follow him around in his everyday life, he’s that gripping a guy. His story is sweet without being anywhere near sentimental, and fresh and inventive without feeling like an indie-movie contrivance. And the bank-robbery stuff is so shockingly run-of-the-mill that it drags everything else down from the level of absorbing novelty it had started at.

So by all means, do check out The Lookout for Gordon-Levitt’s mesmerizing performance, but know that you’ll likely end up as frustrated as Chris by the end of it for how it get stolen out from underneath him.

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Scott P.
Scott P.
Sat, Mar 31, 2007 7:50am

Excellent review & I couldn’t agree with you more. After seeing JGL in Mysterious Skin & Brick (twice in one week at the theatre…it was my favorite movie of 2006), I was so psyched to see The Lookout that I went to the 11:30am show on Opening Day. Not a bad audience turnout either so the marketing must be working.

As expected, JGL’s performance as Chris Pratt was brilliant (Daniels was great too) but the movie itself was missing something. Like MJ eloquently said, the bank heist was so predictable…the bad guy characters were dull & unexplored…you knew the fate of the buddy-cop from the moment he first showed up with donuts in hand…etc.

Speaking of the unexplored, the storyline with the aptly-named seductress Luvlee Lemons simply hit a Brick (I just love that movie!) wall. Like Chris, she realized the level of danger too late. But I cannot believe that she was so heartless to have vanished without even a word of warning– even a quickie note in Chris’ notebook (“Sometimes Gary lies, be careful. XO Luvlee”) would have sufficed.

I still give the movie a good, solid 3 stars as an enjoyable day at the movies. But I wanted to love this movie, not just like it.

Scott P.
Scott P.
Sat, Mar 31, 2007 8:40am

Nice article on JGL in the NY Times. Here is an excerpt which sums up his acting talents.

Jeff Daniels, who plays Chris’s blind roommate — a kind of gauche Obi-Wan Kenobi — sensed a higher consciousness in the way Mr. Gordon-Levitt watches himself as he watches others. “There’s a mystery and a privacy to what goes on in Joe’s head,” Mr. Daniels said. “We can see him work through his thoughts. We can almost hear him.”