The Lookout – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Writer/Director:

Scott Frank

Cast:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt .Chris Pratt
Jeff Daniels .Lewis
Matthew Goode .Gary Spargo
Isla Fisher .Luvlee
Carla Gugino .Janet
Bruce McGill .Robert Pratt
Alex Borstein .Mrs. Lange
Sergio Di Zio .Deputy Ted

Miramax Films presents The Lookout. Running time: 99 minutes. Rated R (for language, some violence, and sexual content). Available on DVD: August 14, 2007.


The Movie

The Lookout is one of those overlooked gems of 2007. Sadly, it was far from a hit when it graced theaters in late March, netting less than five million dollars. Numerous factors played a role — weak distribution and bad marketing, for starters. In fact, besides a few TV spots its biggest advertisement came in the form of critic Richard Roeper who proclaimed it a “masterpiece.” A statement as bold as this is sure to make someone like myself rub the stubble on his chin and contemplate.

With the proliferation of hard-boiled crime thrillers of late, headlined by cynical antiheroes, a little diversion was in order. Scott Frank’s The Lookout is the answer. Having done the crime genre a great service with his screenplay adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty and Out of Sight, this time Frank gets to write as well as direct.

Again, crime plays an important role in the story, but only when our hero’s hand is forced and he becomes an accessory. Up until that point the lead character, Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is trying to rebuild his life. Partially brain damaged due to a car accident four years ago that killed two friends, Chris cannot perform many of the tasks we normally take for granted. So he writes things down in a memo pad as a way to sequence his day-to-day life. He spends his nights working as a janitor at a small Kansas city bank, buffing the floors to a nice shine. It’s a living but not a life. Chris would rather work as a teller, but his boss has uncertainties — the biggest of which is sorting and counting money.

If that wasn’t bad enough, his father treats him with kid gloves paying for his apartment each month. So even though Chris is a grownup, the accident has made him regress back to being reliant on others. Rather than remain a blight on his father’s billfold, a barroom chat with a stranger leads to an invitation to rob a bank. His bank.

Such is the setup to an interesting scenario. Be an accomplice and never have to rely on mommy and daddy. Giving you the freedom to make your own decisions. It’s a fine line, monetarily sound versus unscrupulous greed.

Scott Frank’s directorial debut is a crime thriller that’s heavy on characterizations. The ensemble cast and the winter setting, with the snow and muted colors, draw us in. Our hero is a complicated man with a storied past. The strangers he meets are congenial, even an ex-stripper named Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher). But it must be an act; at once she wants to sleep with him.

In another writer’s hands, Chris Pratt could have been a lovable loser with a disability. Frank quickly demonstrates that Chris is not Forest Gump by way of Kansas City. There are moments of rage and uncontrollable outbursts. Like when he can’t find a can opener to prepare a meal. Or how he can easily coerced by a guy like a Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), the stranger who plays up the fact they were but a few years apart in high school.

A film such as this draws distinction from classic film noirs in which a man of average means loses his sensibility and finds himself entangled with the wrong element. But with his brain injuries Chris is already susceptible to his surroundings, so when Gary attempts to manipulate him it doesn’t take much effort. As the bank heist looms, tension is ratcheted which enhances our protagonist’s sense of dread. It’s a weight that can drown a person, not being able to visualize the consequences of what is about to transpire.

While some of the blurbs on the DVD cover art play up the crime thriller aspect, not much credit is given to the cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to amaze, adding to his resume of memorable performances (see also, Mysterious Skin and Brick). His depiction of Chris Pratt is of a guy who has regressed. His life after the brutal accident is a metaphor of sorts. Before he had everything going for him. A beautiful girlfriend; a fast car; and a future of possibilities. Now his life is like learning how to tie your shoelaces for the very first time.

Jeff Daniels, whose career seems to be on the upswing, plays Chris’s roommate Lewis, a blind man who hopes to own a Breakfast-and-Lunch bistro someday. He’s the light comic relief in a film full of stillness and despair. He has the appearance of an Ivy League professor but with a beard and sunglasses. A fitting comparison since he sometimes acts as a teacher to Chris, giving him advice on constructing a sequence from the end and working backwards to the beginning.

Scott Frank has joined fellow scribe Shane Black in proving that with the proper funding and a keen sense of direction, wishful thinking (um, screenplays that have passed through the studio system without success) can become reality. Although The Loookout may not get the recognition it deserves come the end of the year, it is definitely a film worth discovering. It’s just a great little film and one that sneaks up on you.


The DVD

A/V QUALITY CONTROL

Presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and enhanced for 16×9 televisions, The Lookout looks great on the small screen. The blacks, when it comes to clothing, are especially immaculate. There is a bit of grain on certain nighttime scenes, but it a minute problem. James Newton Howard’s score gets a boost as it is supported by a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The mix is solid, but varying degrees of sound effects and their placement in the film does not necessarily mean it is the gold standard for testing your home theater system. Accompanying the 5.1 audio is an alternate French mix, with subtitles available in English, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES

Clicking on the bonus features tab on the main menu, we are taken to a screen that lists three supplements.

The first extra is a featurette entitled Behind the Mind of Chris Pratt (9:25). Scott Frank and Gordon-Levitt speak of how the Chris Pratt character was a collaborative effort. Gordon-Levitt would sometimes arrive to the set after a strenuous weight session as a means to replicate the feeling of tiredness on screen. As well, he would research brain injuries and note how certain persons with debilitating conditions look no different than you or I.

Sequencing The Lookout expands beyond of canvas of character archetypes and touches on other aspects of the production. This twenty-minute feature covers the script; the actors involved; production design; and the story overall. Interesting notes. It would take at least ten passes through the studio system before a select number of producers would pony up the dough and make The Lookout. Also, Matthew Goode was suggested by one of the producers who worked with the actor on Match Point. Even though he would be playing against type, the producer was convinced that Goode was the guy to play Gary.

Finally, there is a commentary track with Scott Frank and his director of photography Alar Kivilo. Both are a lively pair. Kivlio’s expertise would be of particular interest of those studying filmmaking or who are just interested in the subject of cinematography. As for Frank, the man is just too hard on his own directing ability. He keeps highlighting his mistakes, from time to time.

THE INSIDE PULSE

If my review above didn’t clue you in, or if you just decided to scroll straight to the end, know this: The Lookout is a great film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is just this much closer of becoming a household name. He’s been out of the limelight since the days of TV’s 3rd Rock From the Sun, but his character-driven work in Mysterious Skin and Brick, as well as Scott Frank’s directorial debut, only helps him to shake free of the title of “former teenage idol.” As for the DVD, two featurettes and a commentary track may not seem like much, but the information contained therein adds to the overall enjoyment of the film itself. Definitely watch this Midwest crime thriller.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Lookout
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

9.5
THE VIDEO

8.5
THE AUDIO

8
THE EXTRAS

5
REPLAY VALUE

9
OVERALL
8
(NOT AN AVERAGE)