The Lookout (2007)
“Whoever has the money has the power”
Director: Scott Frank
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode
Synopsis: Chris is a once promising high school athlete whose life is turned upside down following a tragic accident. As he tries to maintain a normal life, he takes a job as a janitor at a bank, where he ultimately finds himself caught up in a planned heist.
Even before the car crash that leaves him with moderate brain damage, we get the impression that Chris Pratt is something of a spoiled kid. Speeding along a remote road, he kills the headlights so that his girlfriend and friends can admire the light show provided by thousands of fireflies, but then gets a kick from freaking out his friends by continuing to drive in absolute darkness until their journey comes to an abrupt end thanks to an abandoned combine harvester sitting in the middle of the road. While Chris suffers head injuries, his two friends in the back seat lose their lives, and the girl sitting next to him one of her legs. It’s difficult to feel sympathy for Chris at this point, and despite the likeability factor of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the role, my sympathy for him sort of wavered throughout Scott Frank’s otherwise impressive directorial debut.
Four years after the crash and Chris is painfully rebuilding his life. No longer the golden boy of college ice hockey, he lives in a modest apartment with his friend Lewis (Jeff Daniels), a former meths dealer who lost his sight when he forgot to open a window, and works as a janitor in a small bank. He struggles to sequence events properly and frequently forgets things, leading to an overwhelming sense of frustration and isolation from the ‘normal’ world. In his local bar one night he’s approached by Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), who claims to have once dated Chris’s sister. A friendship develops, and Gary introduces Chris to Luvlee (Isla Fisher), whose sweetness belies her pole-dancing past. However, it’s not Chris’s friendship that Gary wants. He and his buddies are planning to rob the bank in which Chris works, and they need him to provide them with access and act as lookout as they cut through the bank’s vault wall. To get Chris on board, Gary smoothly works on his sense of frustration at losing the life he once had.
Scott Frank, who wrote and directed The Lookout, has a fairly strong pedigree as a writer. His credits include Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Minority Report, so it’s no surprise that much of the script for this movie is of a high quality. Frank is more interested in exploring the psychological pressures working on Chris that lead him to take up with Gary and his gang than focusing on the mechanics of the robbery itself, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a masterful job of communicating these pressures and frustrations, often with just a clenching of the jaw or barely discernible gesture. Frank’s script takes its time establishing the characters, which some might find a little frustrating as the plot unfolds at a pace that’s unusually deliberate for a Hollywood movie, and it makes for a richer pay-off at the movie’s end.
Unfortunately, though, The Lookout isn’t without its flaws. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review, Chris isn’t always the most sympathetic of characters, and would be a lot less likeable in the hands of a lesser actor than Gordon-Levitt. During the course of the movie his selfish actions are directly responsible for the deaths of no less than three of his friends and the maiming of another, and he’s willing to abandon his friend and mentor Lewis when the promise of money is wafted under his nose. You could argue that he’s confused, a victim of his injuries, but the underlying corruption has to exist in the first place if it’s going to rise to the surface. Chris emerges relatively unscathed from the catastrophic chain of events he helps to set in motion — which is more than we can say for his nominal love interest, Luvlee, because we simply don’t know what happens to her after discovering a gun in the boot of Gary’s car. Does Gary off her because of her discovery? Are we expected to believe she was completely innocent and unaware of the plans and nature of her friends?
It’s shortcomings like these that prevent The Lookout from being a truly great movie, which is a shame because Frank is obviously a skilled screenwriter, and also shows a steady hand behind the camera after assuming the reins when both Sam Mendes and David Fincher bailed on the project (the fact two such high-ranking directors were ever attached to the movie shows the story’s quality). Nevertheless, if you appreciate a lot more depth than usual from your crime thrillers, then The Lookout will provide a reasonable diversion.