Theatrical Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
has a soft baby face and a lanky frame, so it's easy to see why, Eight years after Third Rock from the Sun and 10 Things I Hate About You, he can still play teenagers. The surprise is that he can play them so differently. In The Lookout he's Chris Pratt, who starts off the movie as a cocky high school hockey player. After a car accident, though, Chris sustains brain damage that leaves him hollowed and frail, struggling, even more than most, through a mundane life.
Chris's condition isn't as neatly symbolic as Guy Pearce
's inability to make new memories in Memento. Moments of clarity brush up against considerable fuzziness; Chris can remember people and places while forgetting how to heat up pasta sauce. Gordon-Levitt specializes in plain-sight, makeup-free transformations, and here he nails the wounded body language and muted frustration of a fallen jock idol, creating someone far removed from the equally vivid young people he played in Brick and Mysterious Skin. Article continues below
Like those characters, Chris gets mixed up in some seedy business. In a bar he's approached and befriended by Gary (Matthew Goode
), who claims to remember Chris from high school. Gary, it turns out, is planning to rob the bank where Chris works nights as a janitor, and, with the help of Luvlee (Isla Fisher
), convinces him to help. The fact that Chris is plied so easily (and that the bank job is so simple) fits perfectly with the small-town Kansas setting. Cinematographer Avlar Kivilo emphasizes this desolation in his compositions: heavy on snow and streetlamps, low on bodies, as if most people worth knowing have moved away. Kivilo also shot the Kansas-set crime picture The Ice Harvest, and while The Lookout doesn't go for that movie's dark humor, it belongs in the same sub-genre. Call it townie noir.
The Lookout has so much to offer in its setup that when it doesn't completely pay off, you're at least let down easily -- though the question of why the movie isn't better than decent may still nag at you. Scott Frank
, the excellent writer who adapted Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Minority Report, is making his directorial debut, and his original screenplay doesn't have the polish of those films. In the past, Frank's source materials may have concealed a surprisingly cornball sense of humor. Jeff Daniels
plays Chris's wisecracking blind roommate; I think we're supposed to find his blunt-spoken nature refreshingly salty, but most of his dialogue and behavior sounds and looks like a screenwriter's conceit. Daniels is a terrific actor but can't do much with characterization that requires him to slurp his soup in front of Chris's snooty parents.
Many of the other supporting characters have better introductions than executions (Carla Gugino
, as a therapist, doesn't even get beyond an introduction; one scene and she's out). Isla Fisher turns out to be perfectly cast in a poor-man's-Amy Adams role as Luvlee, and shares a tensely funny scene with Daniels, but she doesn't get much more time to show off. Neither does Matthew Goode, trying on an American accent as Gary. Of course, this isn't unusual for a character study, and Gordon-Levitt is the quietly tortured center here. But The Lookout does eventually play the thriller card, without figuring out how to use these particular characters in an exciting genre context. As a showcase for its young star, The Lookout works; as a showcase for Frank the writer-director, it's hopefully only the beginning.