' ' Cinema Romantico: The Lookout

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Lookout

"The Lookout" was directed by Scott Frank, a name which probably means little to the average movie-goer which is probably because he is primarily a screenwriter. This is his first time behind the camera. And his debut at the helm is a very solid thriller due in no small part to his screenplay.

It opens with Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon Leavitt, in a fantastic performance) at the wheel of a convertible, his girlfriend beside him and two friends in the backseat. The music over this scene lets you know something bad is going to happen and it does (and is all the more wrenching since you DON'T see it). There is a horrific crash. Chris is severely injured and when we flash ahead four years we find Chris (shades of "Memento" here) suffering from severe memory loss. He has to write reminders for himself in a little notebook that is constantly with him but this only helps so much. His only real friend is his blind roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels). He has a night job at a bank as the janitor. His dream at this point in his life amounts to nothing more than moving from janitor to teller.

One night at a local bar (ironically named The Local) he meets a guy named Gary Spargo who claims to have dated Chris's daughter in high school. He seems friendly, sure, but there also seems something a bit shady about this guy, too. So why would Chris decide to be friends with him? Via the femme fatale (Isla Fisher), of course. There's nothing like an ex-stripper named Luvlee to make you ignore any potential warning signs. Soon after that we learn Gary was more shady than friendly when he enlists Chris to assist in a robbery of the very bank where he is employed.

I will give no more specifics in regards to what happens from that point on but I enjoyed it immensely. The film smartly ignores extended flashbacks to Chris's prior life. The only information we learn is the information we get from other characters. We learn, for instance, that he was once a hockey star for his high school and that, apparently, he was at a high level of popularity. However, he may also have been a jerk. The femme fatale has a monologue which suggests this. But we don't know for sure. We're in the dark about a lot, just like Chris himself.

Unlike most thrillers "The Lookout" is about the whole movie and not just the end. What I mean by that is a lot of thrillers choose to coast along for the first couple acts without any regard to characterization or building anything and then try to save face with either a showy, high-priced shootout or by supplying a big "twist". Often times they will even put in the scene at the end (and here I'm thinking specifcally of "The Illuisonist" or "The Ice Harvest") where one character will go over all the previous twists and turns in his head. This scene usually exists because either the filmmaker doesn't trust the audience to figure anything out on its own or because the filmmaker reached the end of his own movie, realized he had a bunch of holes in it and tries to spackle over them.

"The Lookout" does none of this. It's about the process. It's more like a puzzle, meaning every piece is crafted to fit its place. Nothing in the first two acts is for show. And it's great fun watching the whole thing get put together.


Anonymous said...

I liked this movie better the first time I saw it - when it was called "Steel Magnolias."

Rory Larry said...

I felt the movie had to rely heavily on characterization because the plot falls apart if you pay too much attention.