Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Chris Pratt
Jeff Daniels as Lewis
Matthew Goode as Gary Spargo
Isla Fisher as Luvlee
Carla Gugino as Janet
Bruce McGill as Robert Pratt
Alberta Watson as Barbara Pratt
Alex Borstein as Mrs. Lange
Sergio Di Zio as Deputy Ted
David Huband as Mr. Tuttle
Laura Vandervoort as Kelly
Greg Dunham as Bone
Morgan Kelly as Marty
Aaron Berg as Cork
Tinsel Korey as Maura
Directed by Scott Frank
“The Lookout” is a stirring crime drama that separates itself from its ilk with a number of clever ideas, an exceptionally strong script, equally strong characters, and the cast to pull it off.
Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was riding high as the star of his school hockey team, but after a terrible accident out of his own negligence, he received a head injury that has left him unable to perform basic everyday functions. Four years later, he’s working as a janitor at a local Kansas City bank, while still grieving over his responsibility for the death of his friends when he meets a former schoolmate named Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) in a bar and he makes a proposition that Chris can’t possibly refuse.
On paper, “The Lookout” shouldn’t work at all, so it’s surprising that the directorial debut from Scott Frank, writer of “Out of Sight” and “Get Shorty,” works so well on screen. On the surface, it’s set up like just another bank heist thriller, but at its core, it’s actually a character drama about a damaged person trying to recover from a tragic accident and get his life back together. In that respect, Chris Pratt is an intriguing character who greatly benefits by Frank casting the most underrated young dramatic actor working today, that being Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who continues his string of adult roles with another character that traverses the line between hero and anti-hero.
The movie opens with a very different Chris Pratt, a cocky high school hockey star who shuts off the headlights while speeding along the highway with his friends so they can see the local fireflies to tragic results. Four years later, Pratt is damaged goods in more way than one. Besides the grief he feels over the accident, which killed two friends and permanently disfigured his high school sweetheart, he has received a head injury that makes it impossible for him to remember things or to accomplish even the simplest of tasks without writing them down. He also tends to lash out at those around with him in inappropriate ways that make it difficult for him to have a social life. He’s living with a patient but cynical blind man played by Jeff Daniels, who’s his only friend, and he has a job working as a janitor at a small local bank. He also has to live with being a disappointment to his condescending unsupportive father (played by Bruce McGill), who had higher hopes for his son before the accident. Along comes Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), who entices Chris into his circle of associates with the help of a naïve local stripper (Isla Fisher), and when Chris learns that they plan on robbing the bank where he works, he feels like he has nothing to lose by helping them.
The similarities between the main character’s condition with that of Guy Pearce in “Memento” makes comparisons a bit obvious, but this is a different movie in that it deals more with the results of how Chris’ condition affects him in everyday situations. Even before we get to the bank heist portion of his story, there’s a good 30 minutes of developing Chris as a character. Some might find this part of the movie dull but this over-characterization of sorts is what makes everything pay off in such a big way later. Just showing Chris’ frustrations in dealing with his condition, unable to perform simple functions or have a social life, immediately creates a number of interesting situations, but it’s mostly set-up for seeing how this person is able to deal when his life is put into danger. It’s this last act where things really pay off as the bank robbery sets up an exciting final act which includes a number of cleverly-staged shootouts.
Gordon-Levitt is clearly the driving force in selling Chris Pratt and this unfamiliar condition in a believable way that has you always rooting for him, even when he does and says questionable things. There’s no way the film would have worked without such a strong likable actor holding it together. Jeff Daniels offers most of the film’s comic relief with the way he hits on women and makes all sorts of crude inappropriate comments. Though he might seem like a throwaway, there’s far more depth than might be immediately perceived in that he’s better at masking his bitterness over not being able to say than Chris, who is visibly frustrated about his inability to function like a normal person. Matthew Goode casts aside his clean-cut image, being almost unrecognizable with a shaved head and faux Jersey accent, making Gary the type of intense yet flawed antagonist that keeps you interested. Like Gordon-Levitt, Goode is a tragically underrated actor who shows more range and depth here than allowed in previous roles.
Sadly, Isla Fischer is the movie’s weak link. It’s probably important that she plays Luvlee so naïve and childlike, especially when she seduces but then falls for Chris, but her character’s “gosh golly” nature seems very much out of place with the crowd she hang with. She’s not nearly as convincing as the small town police officer who stops by Chris’ bank every night to check up on him, and the relationship between Chris and Luvlee is the one part of the movie that never really delivers. Even more senseless is the wasted role of Carla Gugino as Chris’ parole officer, who literally appears with him in one scene early in the movie and is then forgotten completely.
Though Frank originally developed this script with Sam Mendes and then David Fincher, you won’t really see their imprint on the script, which is very much Frank’s baby. Maybe the movie lacks the bells and whistles a stronger director would have brought to the table, but the movie looks decent and it gets the story across in a clear and concise way. It also has a strong identity due to its Kansas location, which helps differentiate it from similar movies. This rural setting means that everyone in town trusts each other, making it easier to see why Chris’ bank would be such an easy target for robbers.
The Bottom Line:
“The Lookout” offers a solid slice of storytelling with a rich script and dialogue scenes that keeps the viewer interested until the third act kicks things into high gear. It’s an impressive directorial debut by a screenwriter who understands the importance of strong characters and hiring the right actors to pull them off. If you go into “The Lookout” merely seeking a story about a person dealing with an interesting condition, you’ll be that much more impressed by what Frank has achieved as things build up to a satisfying conclusion.