Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in The Lookout, a crime drama that combines elements of Memento with the bank heist genre. While not perfect, the movie properly blends character drama with suspense to create a compelling story about a mentally damaged young man who is seeking to find his place in the world - and some cash.
Levitt, who despite being known from the sitcom "3rd Rock from the Sun", is quite an impressive actor, especially when he chooses darker, smaller films. Last year's Brick was all but a masterpiece, and his follow-up is also quite good. Levitt plays Chris Pratt, who used to be one of the most popular, athletic and intelligent boys in school until a tragic accident left two of his friends killed, his ex-girlfriend without a leg and his brain permanently damaged. Now, he holds a janitorial job at a small bank and struggles to remember even the simplest of tasks. He helps himself by writing instructions down, but his guilt and frustration hamper his development.
The Lookout is never slow, but half of the running time is spent developing the character. More of a character study than anything else, the movie examines how Chris deals with his disability, his family and friends, namely his blind roommate (played by Jeff Daniels). Even the first half is quite good, though, as writer/director Scott Frank (writer of The Interpreter and Minority Report, among other good films) slowly and steadily builds tension. When Chris is befriended and ultimately recruited by a group of bank robbers, the movie picks up the pace and the excitement. The best thing about The Lookout is that it continually gets better as it goes along, and never lets up.
Levitt is impressive in the lead, as he properly portrays a young man who at times needs help just making dinner, but who is also keenly intelligent and able to take charge. He's one of those actors, who, given the right film, could blow critics out of the water and earn himself an Oscar; a few years from now, I would not be surprised if that happens. In the mean time, he is carefully choosing his roles and movies well, and is slowly building his experience. Thankfully, Levitt is not the only good actor in the movie. Daniels is great, as is the villainous Matthew Goode.
The Lookout is for the type of audience who like thrillers, but who like smart thrillers. There is nothing terribly complex about the plot, but a good screenplay and great acting make the movie work. Again, the movie is about a mentally fragile young man who gets sucked into something bad, and not necessarily some elaborate crime story. That being said, I would have liked to see Frank complicate things a little more than he did. The heist sequence is great, but what ensues is simpler than what I was expecting and hoping for. The ending still works, but something a little more exciting could have been even better.
The only other flaw with the movie - and this is a small one - is that the "love interest", played by Isla Fisher (The Wedding Crashers), in the story sort of comes and goes without proper explanation. This is the only real loose end that is never tied up properly, and ultimately it feels like her character was a bit of a waste. More importantly, Frank never really explains how much she knows about what is going on. Does she know everything? Is she using Chris, or does she really feel for him? Does Chris realize and just accept it, or is he really clueless? I would have liked Frank to flesh out the character a bit more, and if it was intentional, it isn't very satisfying.
The Lookout is a crime thriller for people who like a good balance between story and character. Terrific acting, a good screenplay and intriguing story make this one a pleasant March surprise.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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