With a mentally handicapped protagonist who remembers key information by jotting it down in his notebook, The Lookout naturally invites comparisons to Memento. Unlike Christopher Nolan’s chronologically jumbled mystery, however, this crime film from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report)—making his directorial debut—isn’t a treatise on memory and reality but rather a straightforward genre piece bolstered by a sterling lead turn from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a sincere, respectful interest in the emotional and psychological fallout from severe head injuries. Four years after a reckless car crash ruined his golden-boy life, Chris Pratt (Gordon-Levitt) finds it difficult to even recall the location of his kitchen’s can opener or a typical day’s sequence of events, a disability that’s left him alienated from his wealthy family, living with a blind man named Lewis (Jeff Daniels), and working as a janitor at a Podunk, Kansas bank. Frank spends his film’s first half compassionately detailing Chris’s day-to-day struggles, which manifest themselves in small but wrenching ways, and which engender a volatile mixture of frustration, anger, lack of self-worth, and sadness. Gordon-Levitt overplays neither his character’s limp nor cognitive sluggishness for easy sentimentality, capturing Chris’s inescapable distress via unhappy, slightly blank eyes, pursed lips, and a sorrowful smile. In early glimpses of Chris and Lewis’s everyday lives, Frank paints a quiet, sympathetic portrait of the routine condescension and unwanted pity directed at the physically and mentally impaired, and then employs the low self-esteem produced by such treatment as the catalyst for Chris’s entanglement in a scheme by shady stranger Gary (Matthew Goode) and his femme-fatale sidekick Luvlee (Isla Fisher) to rob the kid’s security-lite place of employment. Once the heist machinations ramp up, The Lookout becomes something of a standard-issue, sub-Elmore Leonard caper in which double-crosses and inconvenient surprises lead to murder, with Chris’s condition reduced to a device employed less for thematic than purely suspenseful narrative purposes. Gordon-Levitt’s performance, however, never allows the film to veer into cheap, exploitative territory, his underplayed, honest expression of inner torment infused with more authentic hopelessness and grim desolation than anything found in last year’s poseur-noir Brick.
- Miramax Films
- 105 min
- Scott Frank
- Scott Frank
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Isla Fisher, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino
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