WEEK 12: "L"


Nominees:   L.A. Confidential, The Last Picture Show, Leave Her to Heaven, The Lookout, The Lost Weekend

Winner:  The Lookout

Background:  Released in 2007, The Lookout  was the directorial debut of highly regarded screenwriter Scott Frank.  His resume of Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Minority Report, and The Interpreter prior to 2007 made him a hot name.  The sad thing is, other than a script polish on Marley and Me  and reemerging with Shameless on HBO recently, Scott Frank hasn't had another bite at the feature film apple sinceThe Lookout.  It's a shame too, because no one saw this film even with stellar reviews, an 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and the award for Best First Feature at the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards.

Set outside Kansas City, Chris Pratt (a then-emerging Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a hot shot local high school hockey star who ruined his life with a careless auto accident that killed two people when he was trying to impress his girlfriend (Laura Vandervoort).  The brain injuries he sustained from the accident have made him a man of limited mental capacity, living a life of therapy, sequence, and repetition.  In his eyes, he's become a loser, holding down a nice janitor job at a small local bank and rooming with a blind guy (Jeff Daniels, currently impressing audiences on HBO's The Newsroom).

Things brighten up for Chris when some of the local bar crowd recognize his former hockey glory.  The silver-tongued Gary (Matthew Goode of Watchmen) defends Chris's handicap and invites him into his circle of hang-out friendship.  One of Gary's concubine friends, the ex-stripper Luvlee (Isla Fisher of Wedding Crashers) catches Chris's eye and seals the deal.  The instant social gratification (among other gratifications) change Chris from sweet to brash.  The rub is that they are taking advantage of Chris's weak mind to gain access and knowledge about his bank to rob it.  Therein lies the dilemma for a clever crime thriller.

Reaction:  3 STARS-- I was one of the six people who saw The Lookout back when it hit theaters in 2007.  I was kind of "meh" about it then and wasn't a Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan.  I haven't seen it since, so I was very happy to revisit it for the Alphabet Movie Club.  I wasn't going to vote for it, but I wasn't sad that it won.

On this second spin, my appreciation for the film has improved slightly.  Since 2007, I've become more and more impressed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt's range and talent.  50/50 was my #2 film of last year and Inception was #1 the year before.  I watched and appreciated his work in The Lookout more this time around and I wish I recognized his talent better back then.  He nails the swings fitting this Chris's many troubles.  As the intriguing lead narrator with lots of character components, he's the linchpin that makes The Lookout  an above-average film worth watching.  A different actor in this role wouldn't probably either dial the handicap up too far (say Topher Grace) or error to the side of too much action stud (say James Franco).

The rest of the film is just as middle for me as it was the original time I saw it.  The heist plot's cleverness and preparation is still its strength.  I will easily grant its originality, thanks to Scott Frank's writing and direction.  Still, The Lookout takes a good, cold set-up and lets it tailspin a little too conveniently and deliberate by the time its all said and done.  The movie is smart, but not thrilling enough to make us guess if our hero's peril is ever really in doubt.  Some cliches pile up too, like the complete absence of law enforcement when a bank gets robbed and the aftermath, other than the same friendly dork sheriff that visits Chris on his shift every night.  I know I'm getting too picky, but give me something stronger like Set It Off, Inside Man, or even the over-the-top Point Break when the need arises for a good bank-robbing flick.

LESSON #1: START AT THE END AND WORK BACKWARDS-- Like Leonard in Memento, but not as deliberate or literal, Chris uses sequence, process, and written reminders to keep track of his life.  One of the tricks given to him to help fill in the blanks is this lesson.  Looking at things with the end result in mind is a sound strategy.  It's a good process for writing, remembering, and for goal-setting.  There are times I certainly write these reviews with the lessons first and the introduction last.

LESSON #2: THE SWAY OF FRIENDSHIP AND ACCEPTANCE TO SOMEONE WITHOUT FRIENDSHIP AND ACCEPTANCE-- Chris, thanks to his impairments, comes across as an easy mark because, in a lot of ways, he is.  When you've had peak social status, as he did before his accident, you know how large the gap feels when you've lost it.  In the midst of a losing streak in the social arena, you'll fill that void with just about any attention.  Chris hits on his therapist (Carla Gugino) constantly for that reason and accepts the shady offers of Gary and the gang.

LESSON #3: WHOEVER HAS THE MONEY HAS THE POWER-- Like any good heist film, and even all of the cliche heist films in between, we are going to end up with a struggle for either who has the money or who has the gun before the end credits roll.  This lesson is Gary's mantra, verbatim, for being the boss and it's something that Chris adopts as well when the tables turn his way and he gets a chance to bring a little clout back in this spark-less existence.