The Lookout (review)

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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