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The Lookout

Crime Drama Scores

Most moviegoers and television viewers will recognize twenty-six year old actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt from his supporting role in "3rd Rock from the Sun". Post-television, Gordon-Levitt took some time off, briefly went to college, but rather than return to television or mainstream films, decided to go the indie route, seeking out and winning demanding roles portraying complex, emotionally disturbed, haunted young men, e.g., Manic, Mysterious Skin, and Brick. You can add Gordon-Levittís latest role as a young man recovering from a traumatic brain injury in screenwriter Scott Frankís (Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty) first outing as a director, The Lookout, to the list of memorable performances.

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a once promising high-school athlete injured in a car accident that left two friends dead and his girlfriend seriously hurt, suffers from serious cognitive and physical deficits. Chris has difficulty remembering what to do on any given day and how to complete the simplest task, like opening a can opener. Trying to get back to a life of normality, Chris attends daily classes in life skills at the local rehab center. His caseworker, Janet (Carla Gugino), checks his progress regularly. At home, Chris gets help from his roommate and friend, Lewis (Jeff Daniels). Every weeknight, Chris drives out to a small rural bank to his job as a janitor. A friendly deputy Ted (Sergio Di Zio) comes around to check on the bank and keep Chris company.

At a local bar, Chris runs into an old boyfriend of his sisterís, Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode). Gary saves Chris from overpaying the bartender and introduces Chris to Luvlee (Isla Fisher). Chris begins to hang with Gary and Garyís crew. Gary eventually clues Chris in on his plan to rob the bank after the bank receives an influx of cash from the winter harvest. Gary promises Chris a cut of the heistís proceeds and a shot at normalcy with Luvlee. Chris agrees to become the lookout for the heist. But Gary isnít to be trusted, Chris begins to have second thoughts, Lewis suspects something is amiss, and the winter harvest money is due to arrive any day now.

From the emotionally and cognitively impaired hero haunted by his past, to the gang leader who induces the hero into breaking the law, to a femme fatale who seduces the hero with the promise of intimacy, to the build up and execution of the heist, double-crosses, and voice over narration, itís obvious weíre firmly in noir world. Familiarity aside, The Lookout is far better than the sum of its genre parts.

Apparently, writer/director Scott Frank picked up a few pointers from Elmore Leonard when he adapted Leonardís crime novels, Get Shorty and Out of Sight, for the big screen, e.g., structure, pacing, and dialogue (all expertly handled and executed). Frank also realized that character comes first and foremost. Well before the heist plot gets underway, Frank achieves something rare in genre films, an often wrenching character study constructed from the minutiae of his Chrisí mundane experiences.

Not surprisingly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives yet another stellar performance as the emotionally and physically damaged central character. Gordon-Levitt conveys Chrisí internal tumult and external frustrations without the overly self-conscious mannerisms that lesser talented actors tend to rely on. Gordon-Levitt takes a flawed, initially unsympathetic character and makes us care about him.

As Gary, Matthew Goode never slips into caricature or over-acting, instead adding shades of gray to what could have been a standard issue villain. Writer/director Frank rounded out the cast with a mix of well-known or recognizable faces, e.g., Jeff Daniels, Bruce McGill (Chrisí father), Alberta Watson (Chrisí mother), Isla Fisher, and Carla Gugino, all of whom turn in solid performances.

With only a modest marketing push from Miramax, The Lookout could be lost in the shuffle with other films. Itíd be a serious shame if it slipped out of movie theaters without audiences giving it a chance. The Lookout is really that good. If do you decide to check it out, youíll end up seeing a tautly paced crime drama by a writer/director who knows his genre inside and out, and another superlative performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who continues to add to an already impressive acting rťsumť.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars