In the advertisements we are promised a thrilling heist film. I’m happy to report that those promises were quite wrong. The heist is pretty lame and never keeps up with the many superior attempts. Honestly, we’ve had too many of these multiple twist heist films, culminating in the Ocean franchise which went two films too long. Instead, what we get here is something far better. The Lookout is a compelling character study brought off entirely by a sweet performance by the lead. Who would have believed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the dweeb kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun, had pretty nice acting chops? Never a fan of the quirky series, I thought the acting considerably bad, so I certainly would not have been among the Gordon-Levitt faithful. The Lookout is a wonderful breakout performance that should, rightly enough, bring folks like myself into the fold. He carries the entire film on his shoulders. The entire success of this movie hinges on the emotional ride that Gordon-Levitt takes us on. This has to be one of the best portrayals of mental deficiency I’ve seen. Forget Forrest Gump or Rainman; this role isn’t cute or over the top. Here we’re confronted with a convincing enough performance that it might even be hard to watch if your own family has been touched in this way.
Writer/director Scott Frank doesn’t waste any time pulling us into his film. We start out with an adolescent midnight joyride that you just know will end badly for the passengers. Your prediction quickly proves correct, and Frank Scott is ready to move on. He doesn’t bother lingering on the tragic events, instead allowing us to see the tragedy not in the bloody remnants of the crash, but in the emotional aftermath for the driver. Chris (Gordon-Levitt) finds himself four years later scarred both physically and mentally. He has suffered brain damage, and this causes him difficulty in concentration and sequencing events. He has gone from a high school hockey hero from an influential family to a bank night janitor barely in control of his own life. Jeff Daniels spices up the film a bit as Chris’s roommate, Lew. Lew is blind and relatively cynical about most things in life. He offers a symbiotic relationship with Chris and both have obviously fallen into a routine. One of the best lighter moments in the film is Lew’s desire to open a café called “Lew’s Your Lunch”. Things change for Chris when a man who identifies himself as an ex boyfriend of his sister enters his life. Gary (Goode) invites Chris into his tight circle, which includes the attractive Luvlee Lemon (Fisher) who appears interested in Chris. Finding himself a part of a family, of sorts, creates a strong bond for Chris, until he discovers he was being recruited to rob the bank he works at. We are nearly an hour into the film before the mechanics of the heist begin and the action really starts. The true climax of the film, however, isn’t the bank heist; it’s Chris’s discovery that he has been manipulated into taking the fall for the crime. Now Chris must bring out whatever abilities his mind might still possess to get himself out of danger.
The Lookout is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. This is a very nice transfer in almost every respect. The only place the presentation doesn’t shine is in colors. This is never due to the transfer, but more accurately the product of filmatic choices by Scott Frank. The entire palette of the film is awash in subdued and dark colors that are created to maintain atmosphere than simply to awe. Black levels are magnificent and display a beautiful range of detail and shadow depth. Contrast is light, again more the product of the style than any flaw in the transfer. To many this transfer will come across as a little boring. I ask you to take the image in with the story you are watching and allow these rather unexciting choices to bring you into the story. We are obviously seeing the world through the eyes of Chris; anything more stimulating would only serve to betray that experience.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track was somewhat of a disappointment. Perhaps it was another creative choice to create a completely flat audio experience. If so, it is not near as effective as the visual choices. Everything about this sounds very far away and never upfront and real for me. At times a musical cue came from out of nowhere and approached some brilliance, but it always ended up just appearing out of place and distracting. Dialog is often too low for you to hear every word spoken. If you have dialog enhancement, you will want to engage it for this film. Forget about your subs; there is absolutely nothing for them to do.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director Scott Frank and director of photography Alar Kivilo. This is a highly technical talk that I didn’t find very engaging. Perhaps I was distracted by the on screen performances, and if that’s the case I’m fine with it.
Sequencing The Lookout: Pretty much everyone both in front and behind the camera shows up for this 20 minute look at the film’s production. Unfortunately there really isn’t much that’s new as we’re inundated with too many film clips of a movie we’ve likely just watched. This is not a flaw particular to just this film by any means, but I did find it to be a bit much for this one.
Behind The Mind Of Chris Pratt: This nearly 10 minute feature is far more engaging. We get a nice look at the development for the character of Chris. Gordon-Levitt clues us into the nice research he did for the part and how he approached the performance. This is a must see piece.
If you get this DVD with the idea of a non-stop action piece or a bank job story with lots of juicy twists and turns, you will likely be very disappointed. However, if you have the patience to explore one of the best recent character studies, this is a film you will very much enjoy. It never seems to fail that studios, looking for what the public considers hot, misrepresent a film to its own detriment. All they are doing is setting the audience up to dislike what in reality is a very good movie. In this case honesty would have been the best policy, and I likely would have entered the experience with higher expectations. Maybe that’s the plan. Trick us into thinking we’re going to see some mindless formula piece, and give us something of substance while our expectations are low. Who knows why they do what they do, but “It confuses me, which makes me mad.”