The Lookout is the first film directed by veteran screenwriter Scott Frank. Frank has done writing work on some really good films including Out of Sight and Minority Report. His directorial debut is based on his own original screenplay. The fact that it is an original screenplay is interesting as the film feels like it was based on a novel. The film doesn’t feel like it was based on a very good novel, but it does feel like a crime story more concerned with its characters than with crime.
The film centers on Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a twenty-something dead at the core. It is revealed in the first scene that Pratt’s irresponsible driving lead to the deaths of two friends in a nasty accident. The accident left Pratt with brain damage and a deep guilt about his actions. Pratt has a distant relation with his family and lives with Lewis (Jeff Daniels), a blind friend who has a certain wisdom about the world. Lewis may be blind, but Pratt is the true handicapped person in the apartment, Pratt can barely tell the story of Goldilocks without help. Pratt holds a night job as a janitor at the local bank where he is visited every night by a friendly state trooper named Ted (Sergio Di Zio) whose wife is expecting a baby. Eventually Pratt begins to fall in with a crew of bank robbers hoping to use Pratt’s inside position at the bank to help a robbery.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives an admirable lead performance as Pratt. Most viewers will probably recognize Gordon-Levitt from the 90s sitcom “Third Rock From the Sun,” since that show was cancelled in 2001 he’s been in a number of respectable but forgettable independent films like Brick and Mysterious Skin. Gordon-Levitt is completely inhabits this sad, lonely, and wounded person. Jeff Daniels also creates a likable character that is an interesting contrast to Pratt. Lewis is a very warm lovable figure, yet also very believable. The supporting cast isn’t as consistently good as the two leads, the bank robbing crew are particularly one note.
Chris Pratt is an interesting and sympathetic character. There are the makings of a good character study here, unfortunately the film decides to be a thriller rather than a slice of life, and the eventual event that Pratt is a lookout for is no where near as interesting as the character driven elements.
The movie is quite predictable, everything that happens in the second half are transparently set up in the beginning. Pratt is visited by a very friendly police officer whose pregnant wife is expecting to deliver soon, the cop visits the bank every night; can anyone NOT guess what’s going to happen to this guy? There are a lot of things like this, by the end you realize that almost every scene in the first half only existed to set up something in the second half.
Scott Frank’s direction is highly competent, but could use work. His obvious weakness is action, the visual continuity of the films main set piece completely breaks from the visual continuity of the rest of the film. The technical accomplishments of the rest of the film are never poor, but rarely impress enough to elevate one’s opinion about the film.
The Lookout is a noble effort that never really breaks out of a fairly mediocre mold. I wish Frank had more confidence in his character’s ability to entertain. Pratt the depressed soul is a lot more interesting to me than the mediocre heist sub-plot. The Lookout is a missed opportunity, but there is enough good in it to maybe be worth a rental.
**1/2 out of four