They got a real unique advertising campaign for THE LOOKOUT, they are trying this new thing where you don’t promote the movie at all, and nobody knows it even exists. So there is this mystery around it. I don’t know why it hasn’t blown up yet but so far this playing-hard-to-get approach does not seem to be capturing the public consciousness.
About the only thing I knew about THE LOOKOUT was the reason I wanted to see it: it is the directivational debut of screenwriter Scott Frank, who wrote many movies but most importantly OUT OF SIGHT. He also wrote GET SHORTY so it’s easy to expect Elmore Leonard if you know this is a movie involving a bank heist. But the feel is very different, it’s not really fun or jokey, it’s actually a little sad. But it is a real good and tightly-written thriller.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the kid from whatever sitcom it was that he was on (not WEBSTER or MR. BELVEDEERE, this was in the ’90s I believe), plays Chris Pratt. Somehow that is the perfect name for a popular high school kid who in the opening makes a big mistake that causes the deaths of two friends and the horrible injury of his girlfriend and himself. The movie takes place 4 years later when Chris is still in head injury rehabilitation trying to figure out how to live a normal life. Not only is he wracked with guilt but his brain is messed up, he can mostly cut it but sometimes screws up at simple tasks like remembering to take his car keys out of the car. And he has a tendency to blurt out thoughts that he should keep to himself, like telling his case worker Carla Gugino “I think about fucking you all the time.” Whoops.
The thriller aspect of the movie comes in when he’s at a bar trying to enjoy an O’Douls and “happens to” run into this guy Gary (Matthew Goode) who was 3 years ahead of him in high school, and this cute girl now known as Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher) who lovingly tells him a story about watching him play hockey in high school. Chris starts hanging out with Gary and his friends but doesn’t realize the real reason they’re interested in him: he’s the night janitor at a small bank.
I suppose I should probaly specify – they don’t just have alot of questions about what it’s like to clean a bank at night. They want to rob it, is what I’m getting at. That’s why they want to be his buddy.
I’ve read a few mixed reviews of this thing and I’ve seen mention of “plot holes,” but I didn’t see any. In my opinion this is pure Scott Frank you-wouldn’t-want-to-be-hit-in-the-face-with-it-because-of-how-solid-it-is writing. I mean this movie is undeniably writerly. It has voiceover narration structuring alot of the story around Chris’s struggles with a class assignment to list everything he does in a typical day. He has trouble with sequencing so his blind roommate (Jeff Daniels, BLOODWORK) shows him how it works by having him tell the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears backwards. And you can clearly see how Scott Frank built this screenplay the same way, starting at the end. There are no twists, only turns, but all the pieces just come together naturally and fit right into place. Things are discussed or happen that need to happen for the story but they always come out naturally. Organic, free range exposition.
But I think Scott Frank makes a good director too. It’s not flashy but it’s not one of those writer-turned-director joints that falls flat. Most impressive to me is that he put together a real good cast and got good performances out of them, with subtlety. This could’ve easily turned into a bunch of asshole actors showing off, and it didn’t. The closest to over-the-top is Daniels, but it fits the character’s personality. JGL (pronounced Jiggle) deserves the most credit because he doesn’t do a single Oscar clip scenery chewing in the whole movie. He is a disabled protagonist who doesn’t want to be seen as disabled, he’s not some victim or hero or acting showcase. And the way his disability is written helps out. Alot of this movie really is about the struggle to get past his injury and his guilt, not to mention the loss of the charmed life that is no longer his destiny. Not to trash talk MEMENTO which I thought was a pretty good movie, but this head injury thing is not a gimmick like that, it seems more like a real problem that gets in the way of his goals. Anybody would be out of their depth dealing with these dangerous men with guns, but he has the added difficulties of his brain injury, like accidentally blurting out his plan when he has a gun pointed at him.
The red ribbon for second place best performance goes to Isla Fisher. She was the crazy nympho in that horrible “WEDDING CRASHERS” movie that everybody likes, and I believe she is married to Ali G. But in this movie she becomes the adorable high school sweetheart you never had. Her residual teenage worship of Chris Pratt seems so sincere that you havr faith in her character even when she is clearly betraying him. Also she’s gorgeous and makes a habit of walking around with no pants on.
And I gotta give credit to Matthew Goode as Gary, because he makes him cold and scary without being too outwardly villainous. I looked him up and realized he was the preppy husband guy in MATCH POINT. Holy shit, even thinking of it now I can’t square that as being the same guy. In this movie he’s intense and American and looks alot like David Blaine.
And the other guys in the robbery crew are well cast too. There’s a guy named Cork who has the face of a snowboarder and the arms of the Incredible Hulk. He seems like a real colorful character but a real guy, not a movie actor. And the rest of this paragraph is kind of a spoiler, this is more for people who have seen the movie. Didn’t you like that character Bone? I love how he is so out of place with these other guys, he looks more like a movie version of a Euro-trash criminal, he is older than the other guys, he’s like the depraved uncle who hangs out with the teenagers and gives them pot. But he just sits there with those sunglasses, never once smiling, barely moving, I don’t remember if he even talked. Until the shit hit the fan and suddenly he switches on and starts shooting people. That guy was scary. Good job on that guy.
I should note, by the way, since I mentioned Carla Gugino, that she’s only in that one scene. I thought it was cool though because I’ve really liked this gal since she played Karen Sisco in the TV show of the same name. And of course Karen Sisco is the same character Jennifer Lopez played in OUT OF SIGHT, which was written by Scott Frank. So it’s appropriate. Maybe now Jennifer Lopez will star in a TV show called JANET, where she will play a model who gets a head injury and decides to become a counselor for other victims of head injuries. It will be a really good show and get great reviews but will get cancelled without really being given a chance to build an audience, and then it will never come out on DVD.
But before we get too bummed about the cancellation of JANET lets talk more about THE LOOKOUT. I like that there is some ambiguity in the script. It doesn’t insist on explaining every damn thing. They even leave it open to interpretation whether these people really knew Chris in high school, since Gary’s only reference point is that he dated Chris’s sister, and she doesn’t remember the name. Gary refers to this guy Bone as his uncle, but my guess is he’s really a guy he met in the joint who pushed him toward bank robbery. But I like that they never say this, they give you enough numbers to make the equation but they don’t tell you to start doing the math. It’s just there if you’re interested.
I saw the movie yesterday and I really liked it, but thinking about it today I think it might be better than I realized at the time. I just keep remembering all these scenes, haunting little moments that add to the tension or low key conversations that reveal character. Scott Frank is a writer but he knows it’s not just about the words that come out of the people’s mouths. He tells the story with images, even with facial expressions.
The only thing I really have against Scott Frank is that I have to refer to him by his full name every time, otherwise it sounds like I all the sudden talking about some dude named Frank. Way to make it a pain in the ass, Scott Frank. Fuck you. Otherwise, good work.
I’m not gonna lie, this is not a mainstream crowdpleaser explosive white knuckle thrill ride type of movie. It takes its time getting going and it is about character more than thrills. But it’s a hell of a thriller, I really liked this movie alot. I hope it will catch on. Richard Roeper already called it a “masterpiece,” so I guess they don’t need any more ridiculous quotes to promote it with, but here’s one just in case:
“Look! It’s out of this world! Keep a lookout for THE LOOKOUT! THE LOOKOUT will knock you out! Look out, here comes THE LOOKOUT!, etc.” –Vern
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.