Bookmark and Share

Writer Scott Frank can now add director to his list of accomplishments. The man behind the script for two favorites of mine, Get Shorty and Out of Sight, has gone behind the camera to direct a new original screenplay, The Lookout. Despite the talent involved—Frank, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who can do no wrong), Matthew Goode, and stalwart Jeff Daniels—I definitely had my reservations about the film from the trailer. It seemed a bit too conventional, a bank heist gone wrong with an inevitable twist waiting in the wings. As the release date approached though, the buzz was all positive and I was more and more excited to see what Frank and Gordon-Levitt had concocted. Seeing that the other big opening this week was Blades of Glory, The Lookout was a no-brainer choice for the one to see, (however, Buffalo finally did get a theatrical release of Little Children, which I strongly recommend people see at Eastern Hills). Thankfully my preconceived notions were overpowered by the growing interest, because the film ends up being an intelligently told crime drama without any asinine twists and turns. While far from perfect, it was definitely worth the time.

Gordon-Levitt plays Chris Pratt, a former high school hockey star who has been left lost in the world after a tragic car accident claimed two of his friends and his ability to remember what he should do next at every moment of his life, without the help of his notebook of instructions. Again, Gordon-Levitt shows his talent by portraying this lost soul on a road for redemption with every struggle inside him fighting to come to the surface. His moments of outburst and disgust for his inability to do what he did before the tragedy are emotionally gripping and draw the audience in so that they really care about this character and what his future holds for him. Despite the guidance from friend and roommate Lewis, (Daniels as wonderful as always), a blind internet flower salesman, Chris finds himself wanting some adventure and danger back in his life. The opportunity comes when ex-classmate Gary Spargo, (played by Goode, completely effective in a role opposite to the last time I saw him onscreen in Match Point), comes in with a plan to knock off the bank that Pratt works at. Chris must struggle with his desire to get back at those who feel he can’t do anything anymore and falls into Spargo’s scheme, leading him on a path that he has been on before—one of hate and self-loathing, trying to be the big man on campus again, which can only end in another crash. (My only problem with Pratt was his ability to drive a car. Forgetting where he needs to go at his watch alarm doesn’t mean he’ll forgot directions to that place? How bout not remembering what the can opener looks like, yet he can differentiate the red and green traffic lights no problem? Maybe I’m just nitpicking.)

Scott Frank deserves a lot of applause for his lack of fear to really give us some exposition and background to his characters. The first half of the film contains no mention of the bank heist we all know will be coming; instead we get a glimpse into Chris Pratt’s life and the environment he has been forced to endure since that fateful day on old route 24. We are soon invested in his character along with Daniels’ attempts to shield him from the dangers he no longer can pick out himself, the estranged parents giving him space not to allow his independence to flourish, but to have him fail and come back home, his new “friend” Spargo and the charming façade covering up his villainy, and new love interest Luvlee, who appears to be seeing more to her relationship than a job and maybe even starting to care for Pratt. It is this great use of dialogue and time that sets up the bank robbery to be as successful as it is. We know our heroes and our villains and we can sit back and enjoy the ride. Frank gets all this right, including not hiding behind a twist ending, but instead carrying out the story realistically and intelligently. Sure I would have liked a bit more darkness to come through the somewhat cheery outcome, but I forgive it because it all makes sense.

Unfortunately, where Frank succeeds on the heist aspect and the evolution of Chris Pratt, he leaves all the others behind. The supporting players soon become pawns thrown away once their utility has run out. What happens to Luvlee and Isla Fisher’s effective development into her caring? or to Alex Borstein’s character of the helpful bankteller, which seems to have no bearing whatsoever in the film? or to Carla Gugino’s social worker? All these women are thrown into the mix to serve Pratt’s background and mindset, but never fleshed out enough to stand on their own. Even the role of Bone, while creepy and effective as the silent sadistic muscle of the team, is so out of place, he becomes a tad laughable.

Thankfully though, while Frank misfires on the cast of misfits surrounding his leads, (which he wrote so brilliantly for in the ensembles Get Shorty and Out of Sight), he gets the plot progression and lead performances down to perfection. I am constantly waiting for a new Gordon-Levitt film and Goode truly impressed me with his versatility. Charm is all in the eye of the beholder because he had tons of the British variety in Match Point, making him a likeable bloke, and tons of the American variety here, a slimeball getting everyone close to him so that he can manipulate them to do his bidding. Go see the film for these two guys alone, but also bask in the many wonderfully shot sequences, including the opening car crash scene showing the sublime beauty of fireflies that lead to the tragedy which puts into motion the story to follow.

The Lookout 7/10

Bookmark and Share

photography:
[1] Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Chris and Matthew Goode as Gary in THE LOOKOUT. Photo Credit Allen Fraser/ Courtesy of Miramax Films.
[2] Matthew Goode (center) star as Gary in Crime, Drama, Thriller’s The Lookout – 2007

Advertisements