By Don Simpson | March 29, 2007
Director: Scott Frank
Writer: Scott Frank
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Bruce McGill
Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had it all. He was the cocky star of the high school hockey team. He had a hot girlfriend, money, popularity and a fancy convertible. On one fateful night Chris made a stupid mistake while showboating for his girl and he has been drowning in his own personal hell of guilt and self-pity ever since.
His injuries incurred that night and the resulting depression have completely screwed up his memory and thought process while totally trashing his self-esteem. Now he is stuck at the bottom of the human food chain as the nighttime janitor at a bank. Of course, if the Pratt family were not affluent and white, Chris would probably be in prison for manslaughter. So things could be much worse.
In his current state of mind, Chris has a difficult time existing on his own. He is in such pathetic shape that he is dependent on his blind roommate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels), to look after him. Chris has lost any and all knack for social skills, so Lewis is pretty much his only friend. Even his well-to-do family has all but disowned him, probably because they are embarrassed by his damaged mental state and hopelessness.
The narrative begins just as things are just starting to look up for Chris; he meets a new friend, Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode). From the second Gary appears on screen, it is overtly obvious that he is a bad person. Despite his kind opening gesture toward Chris, it is plain to see that he is up to no good. So the question is not if he is bad, but how is he bad?
Gary proceeds to introduce Chris to the real lure for their friendship, a recently retired exotic dancer named Luvlee (Isla Fisher). Ah, what a name, Luvlee. She’s sexy and stupid, but most importantly she expresses a lot of interest in Chris. Questionable motives, probably; but again, we know she’s bad, but how exactly is she bad? Even blind old Lewis can see the evil lurking within Gary and Luvlee; but Chris is lonely and he’s happy just to have a new friend and be getting some sweet, sweet Luv.
While Luvlee teaches Chris the ins and outs of love, Gary teaches Chris a mantra to get him through life: “Whoever has the money has the power.” (Capitalism at its finest!) People with bad memories seem to repeat things a lot and Chris’ memory leads him into repeating this mantra throughout the remainder of the film to the point of sheer tediousness.
From this point on (the final act, if you may), The Lookout changes from an intriguing character study into a sub-par heist film. It is frustrating that this film is being promoted as a heist film, since it is such a miniscule, uninteresting and unsuccessful part of the narrative and the antithesis of what this film is about. The Lookout brings forward many intriguing issues regarding memory, guilt, depression, working class struggle (lack of money and therefore power), friendship and trust; but the heist causes the film to lose focus and meaning.
The Lookout, written and directed by first time director Scott Frank (who penned the screenplays for Out of Sight, Get Shorty and Minority Report), is a true writer’s exercise. Chris’ dysfunctional thought process creates a playful, not-so-linear, narrative structure – the obvious purpose of this project from scene one. This is a film that works as Chris’ brain functions, like piecework. It is not the most complicated puzzle to put together. All of the pieces are present and it is fairly obvious what the finished product will be; Frank succeeds at the challenge to create a mystery revolving around how it will all come together.
The acting is also worthwhile. Jeff Daniels steals every scene not only with his eyes and facial expressions but also with his brilliant comedic timing and delivery. His restaurant’s name, “Lew’s Your Lunch,” still makes me giggle. Gordon-Levitt is making a nice independent film portfolio for himself with excellent turns in Brick, Mysterious Skin and now The Lookout. He has come a long way from his role as Tommy on 3rd Rock from the Sun.