by RISHI AGRAWAL
There are a lot of heist movies out there, and I will admit many of them are serviceable. We expect decent characters, a cool plan, and perhaps a twist ending. Unfortunately, after seeing many of them, they all start to look the same and the mere promise of a bank robbery is not enough to make me watch a film these days. Fortunately, The Lookout breaks this pattern and sets itself apart from most heist movies. Writer-director Scott Frank (best known as a screenwriter for Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Minority Report, among others) doesn’t devise a cool plan, but a simple, plausible scenario. He also eschews the twist ending and, instead, gives us a film with memorable characters.
The heist does not come until later in the film, so we start off confronted with the life of Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a former star athlete who loses a lot of mental and physical capacity in a car accident, which haunts him constantly. His main problem is that he has trouble remembering things unless he writes them down, and he also has sequencing issues – he doesn’t know how to put events in order. He is prone to fits of anger, but fortunately he has a blind roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels) to calm him down. On a side note, the presence of a blind roommate seemed a bit ridiculous to me before I saw the movie, but there is a perfectly plausible explanation: Chris and Lewis were placed together to help each other out.
Chris eventually meets Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), who claims to have known Chris in high school (whether this is true or not is never resolved). Chris makes a good target since he is a night janitor at a rural bank in Kansas. The two become friends, and Chris becomes attracted to another one of Gary’s friends, Luvlee (Isla Fisher), and she helps to draw Chris into the plot. Eventually, Gary sells the idea of robbing the bank to Chris, emphasizing it as a way to regain the respect that Chris has lost.
In many ways, this is a writer’s film. The characters are rich and deep, and the dialogue is smart and believable. But the crowning achievement of the film is its clean structure. Chris works hard on sequencing the events in his life, and the film is carefully constructed so that one event flows very organically from the previous one. Few things in the film are wasted, and the film rewards watchers with an intense attention to detail.
The writing is not the only thing to enjoy about the film. The entire cast gives great performances, especially Gordon-Levitt. What makes his performance so great is that he does not overplay it. If we were only to watch Gordon-Levitt in this film for a few seconds, we wouldn’t even realize that there is anything wrong with him, but his problems slowly become obvious. It is a shame that this film came too early in the year; I can already imagine that Gordon-Levitt’s performance will be overlooked come awards season.
I do have minor issues with the film. For the most part, the film is visually uninteresting (except for a great scene with fireflies in the beginning of the film), perhaps an inevitable side effect when screenwriters get a chance to direct. Also, it feels like we could have gotten more out of this film. We only gets hints at the lives of many of the characters, except for Chris, and I think that Scott Frank was a little too worried about putting in too much to distract from the main plot. The film has everything wrap up neatly and believably and I hate to say, but I could have used some loose threads. Still, those points are so minor against everything that is great about this movie, which has made the heist film worth watching again.
3 1/2 stars