Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Lookout" a real winner


If you enjoyed any of [writer-director Scott] Frank's previous work, or thought Brick was the bomb, you'll love this.
- Mike Russell, The Oregonian

Believe it or not, that was the excerpt from Mr. Russell's negative review of "The Lookout" posted at Rotten Tomatoes. If I were Scott Frank, though, I'd put it on the movie's poster, because "The Lookout" is indeed almost as good as the best movies Frank has scripted and on a par with Rian Johnson's outstanding film noir "Brick."

The main thing that both movies have in common is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who distances himself further from his start on TV's "Third Rock from the Sun" with each great movie role he takes on (as an aside, does anyone in the world actually miss French Stewart? I sure don't.)

Here, Gordon-Levitt plays Chris Pratt, a former hotshot high-school athlete who has his life turned upside down after a car accident in his senior year that leaves him with a head injury that impacts his memory and general living skills. In this case, it's actually good to know that going in, because the opening sequence that leads to the crash is all that more intense if you know how it's going to end.

After the crash, Pratt is left a shell of his former shelf. He cleans a bank on the overnight shift, and shares an apartment with a blind man (the always-welcome-in-my-book Jeff Daniels) who Social Services has hooked him up with. The first half or so of "The Lookout" is mostly about their unique relationship, and that's when the film is at its best.

Pratt's memory issues, which make him write down every thing he's supposed to do in a day, have drawn inevitable comparisons to "Memento," but Gordon-Levitt's powerful performance stands on its own. He makes us feel for Pratt without telegraphing any of his social shortcomings, and you can tell he's about an inch from a meltdown at any given moment. And the relationship between these two outcasts, rather than being treacly sweet as it could have been, is instead very real, thanks to a slow-moving but often darkly funny script from Frank.

Their relationship changes dramatically when Pratt meets Gary Scargo (Matthew Goode) at the local watering hole. Scargo entices Pratt to join his gang of would-be robbers to hit the bank where Pratt works. His cause certainly isn't hurt by temptress "Luvlee Lemons," the stunningly beautiful Isla Fisher. If Isla Fisher asked me to help her rob a bank, I'd at least have to give the matter my serious consideration.

After an appropriately menacing pep talk, Pratt finally agrees to be the titular "Lookout" in their scam. And though we know none of this will end well (you won't hear exactly how from me), Frank plays with the audience because we still end up cheering for Pratt. In all this mess, he really just wants to be cool in the eyes of his dangerous new circle of friends, an impulse to which we can all relate.

Frank keeps the tension high throughout the low-tech heist, and this half of the flick reminded me most in its tone of Sam Raimi's sublime "A Simple Plan." My only real quibble with "The Lookout" is that we get to see Carla Gugino in only one five-minute scene early on, then never again. What a waste of a great actress.

That's only a small complaint about this otherwise very satisfying little flick, which according to one box-office projection I saw won't even finish in the top 10. Oh well. If I can convince one or two of you to go see this, I guess I've done about as much I can.

P.S.: They showed a trailer for Adrienne Shelly's "The Waitress" before this one, and even though it looked awfully girly it just made me smile. For anyone who doesn't know, Adrienne Shelly appeared in some of Hal Hartley's best flicks before going on to become a director herself. She was murdered in November in her New York City apartment for having the audacity to complain that a neighbor was playing his radio too loud. I'm hopeful that having the trailer for her final flick, which stars Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, play in my remote little corner of the world means it will eventually get distributed this wide. If so, I'll definitely be there to see it, and I hope all of you will too.

12 comments:

Linda said...

Don't know why Rotten Tomatoes put a splat next to Russell's review. It's a favorable review, and he raved about this film on Cort and Fatboy's Friday night Screen Test. He's at the top of the Metacritic list with his review, giving a score of 100. This film was a hit with me too, awesome writing and acting!

Reel Fanatic said...

That shows you what I get for not reading all of his review, Linda ... I should have suspected they got it wrong with the splat, because everyone I know who has seen "Brick" is just a big fan of it

left coast jane said...

I was following this in RTomatoes (I loved Brick & JGL forever), and I actually found THREE such mis-attributed "splats." But this was the most egregious error. I actually wrote (who knows if anybody reads?) saying that for the smaller films, with less advertising budget & fewer screens, sites such as RT might have big impact on moviegoers' decisions and should be more responsible to get it right.

Reel Fanatic said...

You're definitely right there, Jane ... I'm hoping the box-office projection I saw was wrong and this one finishes in the top five or so, but it doesn't seem likely

Melanie Hess said...

I saw Waitress at Sundance, and while you're right, it is a little girly, it is also delightful and refreshing. I would be willing to bet a lot of people will like it.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll see just about anything with those two stars in it, melanie .. The only thing that irked me about the trailer was the pie-making-with-voiceover for a scene setter .. if that's the only annoyance, I'll definitely be willing to forgive it

Marina said...

That's excellent. I was a bit concerned by a few of the reviews kicking around but, as usual, I decided to suspend judgment and simply watch it for myself. I'm going tonight but I'm happy to hear that someone I respect really enjoyed it.

Bonus.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm almost certain you will like it Marina .. It definitely moves on a slow burn, but it's well worth sticking with it

Eaglewing said...

Nice review. I'm hoping I get to see this at the local 'indie' theatre. Wish it had a wider release - its a shame it doesn't even break the top 10 on opening weekend...

Reel Fanatic said...

I didn't know about the limited release until I saw the box office report, Eaglewing ... We don't normally get movies that don't play very wide in the first week, so I guess I just got lucky with this one

Melanie Hess said...

The voice over with the pies bugged me too. In fact, although it fit with the character really well, it was the one thing I wish she'd done differently. Andy Griffith is worth the price of admission himself.

Reel Fanatic said...

I do love to see Andy Griffith in just about anything, Melanie, so that's a plus for me too .. In fact, when we watch the 5:00 news here in the newsroom, this being the South and all, the Andy Griffith Show comes on directly afterward, and if it's not cut off immediately, I always whistle along to the theme song ... I'm certain it just thouroughly annoys my co-workers, but it really can't be helped