Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Lookout


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/31/07 w/ Additional Edits.


Written and directed by Scott Frank, The Lookout is about a young man, damaged from an accident several years ago who is left mentally impaired as he's forced to right notes and things to get his life going. When he meets an old friend from high school, he suddenly takes part in a bank heist that would eventually go wrong. Frank, who has been known for writing screenplays in films like Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Minority Report makes his directorial debut where he takes a different approach of the heist film. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Carla Gugino, Bruce McGill, and Alberta Watson. The Lookout is a smart, intelligent character study/heist film from Scott Frank.

The star hockey player in his high school and one of the top students, Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) seemed to have it made. He had rich parents in Robert and Barbara Pratt (Bruce McGill and Alberta Watson) and was someone many idolized. Then one night after prom, he and some friends were on his car where playing around until a seriously horrifying accident happened leaving Chris damaged. Four years later, Chris is alive but mentally and emotionally impaired as he can barely remember the accident or put things in order. Even opening a simple can opener can be troubling. He talks to his counselor in Janet (Carla Gugino) about his day-to-day problems while he lives with a blind cook named Lewis (Jeff Daniels). In the day, he goes to school to improve his sequencing order while at night, he works as a janitor in a bank for his boss Mr. Tuttle (David Huband) and trying to work as a teller with help from Mrs. Lange (Alex Borstein).

Then one night after work, Chris goes to a bar where he meets a guy named Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) who claims to have known him back in high school. Gary buys him a beer as the two begin to meet frequently as Gary introduces him to a former dancer named Luvlee (Isla Fisher). Chris is invited to a party where Luvlee told him she remembered him back in school at a championship game he played as she seduces him. Chris enjoys the company as he was invited to a post-Thanksgiving dinner where he learns of a plan involving a bank heist at his own bank. Chris at first doesn't want to get involved but Gary tells him it will be the only way to get away from his own mundane, repetitive life. Chris gives in eventually with a bit of help from Luvlee while Lewis notices a change in Chris' attitude and the company he's surrounded by. With Chris unwittingly takes pictures of the bank, he doesn't become aware of what is really going on.

With the heist going underway, tension begins to mount as Chris is wondering if he's doing the right thing. With Gary and his gang deciding to rob the bank at night with Chris being the lookout, he realizes he's in a lot more than he bargained for.

Heist films often has this sense of tension where things could go wrong during a heist and this film plays to the tradition of heist films of the past. The only difference about this movie is that it's really about this young, emotionally/mentally damaged young man who is sucked into a world of crime as an escape to his own mundane, repetitive life. Writer/director Scott Frank creates a momentum where the audience gets to know Chris Pratt and all of the things he's done in his day-to-day life. Even when he has to remember things, he has to write them all onto a notepad. It's really an engaging character study of this young man who becomes part of a heist as he gets into a moral dilemma.

The way the heist is set up reveals how Chris at first, gets into it by trading a jacket his mother bought him to the way he reacts to his own mundane life. Then once the heist comes around, there is this eerie tension that Frank sets up where it's known that something goes wrong. Whether it's a visit from the deputy watchman in Deputy Ted (Sergio Di Zio) comes in to check on Chris. To the moment they break into the vault and knowing that trouble is coming around.

Then there's the line "whoever has the money, has the power" which then becomes a game about power. Gary wants to use the money to lure Chris into all sorts of temptation until Chris' own conscience gets the best of him. While mainstream audiences might find the film's momentum in the first two acts to be jarring, it pays off in the third act. Particularly in the ending where it doesn't play to Hollywood conventions or has twists. Everything plays out straightforward. Even the characters who each have some back story while Gary is also flawed in a physical way since he carries an inhaler. Overall, the film's smart writing and very observant, stylish direction works as Scott Frank makes a hell of a debut.

Helping Frank in his visual presentation is cinematographer Alar Kivilio whose intimate camera work in the interior settings play to the film's tension, notably in the heist sequence. The exterior work shot on location in Canada as Kansas works to play up to the film's cold feel including the opening sequence that involves fireflies. Production designer David Brisbin and art director Dennis Davenport help bring the American look to create the bars and apartments that Chris lives and works in. Costume designer Abram Waterhouse also adds to the look of dark colors for most of the cast to convey this aura of darkness. Editor Jill Savitt really shines with her stylistic editing to convey the tension and suspense while giving the use of flashbacks to reveal the troubling emotions of Chris. Sound editor Kelly Cabral plays to the film's tension, particularly in the final moments to convey the cold weather and what is to come. Composer James Newton Howard brings a very melodic, moody score to play to the troubling mind of Chris Pratt as well as the suspense during the heist and its aftermath.

The film's cast is wonderfully assembled with small performances from Janaya Stephens and Marc Devigne as Chris' older, adult siblings, David Huband and Alex Borstein as Chris' bank supervisors, Sergio Di Zio as the comical Deputy Ted who often gives Chris donuts, and Laura Vandervoort as Chris' former high school girlfriend Kelly who brings an eerie presence to the film. Playing Gary's gang are Morgan Kelly as Marty and Aaron Berg as Cork who are both excellent while it's Greg Dunham as Bone that really brings an excellent presence with his black long hair and black sunglasses. Carla Gugino is excellent in her one-scene performance as Chris' caseworker while veteran actors Bruce McGill and Alberta Watson are fine as Chris' parents who struggle their attempt to reconnect with their son.

Known to audiences for her comedic work in Wedding Crashers, Isla Fisher is wonderful as the sexy seductress Luvlee with her charming, vibrant charm while Fisher shows a bit more of her serious side in a very intriguing scene with Jeff Daniels where she proves that she's more than just some pretty face. In a performance that is really against type, Matthew Goode is superbly terrifying as Gary Spargo. Known to audiences for his romantic work in movies like Chasing Liberty, Imagine Me & You, and Woody Allen's Match Point, the British actor plays against his good looks for a shaved haircut and a beard as this tough, manipulative robber who want to have money and power while using his wits to manipulate the fragile Chris. Goode is truly a revelation as he proves his range, even doing an excellent American accent. Veteran actor Jeff Daniels is also superb as the blind Lewis whose comical comments and wit brings a lot of needed humor to the dark film while being the only friend that Chris has while trying to keep him grounded in the world he's being sucked in. It's a fantastic performance from the veteran actor.

Finally, there's Joseph Gordon-Levitt in another winning performance as Chris Pratt. What is more shocking in this angst-ridden, emotionally troubled performance is the restraint that Gordon-Levitt brings. There's a way he stands and how he is quiet when doing his work or writing in his notepad. The way he observes things with silent. It's a very minimalist performance that could've gone wrong with some huge outburst. Yet, Gordon-Levitt remains still though at times, he curses and tries to deal with his emotions. When he's sucked in, he becomes a bit more selfish while remaining restrained and right to the end, he becomes a full-on acting powerhouse. This is not the same child actor we've known in Angels in the Outfield or the teen from 3rd Rock from the Sun. Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves he is for real and has what it takes to carry a film like this which he's also proven in films like Mysterious Skin and Brick.

The Lookout is a smart, engaging, entrancing crime drama from Scott Frank featuring a wonderfully leading performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Fans of heist films will enjoy the tension and momentum it builds up while mainstream audiences should give the film's slow build-up a chance to be sucked in. With a fantastic supporting cast including Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, and Isla Fisher, it's a film that features great performances, witty dialogue, and great scenes that audiences can enjoy. Yet, the film really belongs to both Frank and Gordon-Levitt as a new director has now emerged while Gordon-Levitt continues to become a force in American Cinema. For anyone wanting a smart alternative to some of the big films this spring, check out The Lookout.

(C) thevoid99 2012

3 comments:

dtmmr said...

Good review Steve. It's a pretty solid thriller that may not be chock full of surprises, but still has a good amount of fun and suspense to it. Also, isn't it about time that Jeff Daniels gets nominated for an Oscar!?!? Guys been turning out great work ever since Dumb and Dumber, and that's more than I can say about his co-star.

Chip Lary said...

I was a little disappointed by this film, but that was because my expectations were too high. I was hoping for another Brick and didn't get it. Had I gone in with no expectations, I'd probably have liked it more.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-Jeff Daniels is overdue for an Oscar nod. The dude was great in that role. He's one of the best actors working today.

@Chip-Never go in with high expectations. It always ruin the movie. I think it's time to re-watch it.