You Gotta See This: The Lookout

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher

Rated R for Violence, language, sexual content, Drama/Suspense/ Noir

Compare to: Layer Cake (2004), Harry Brown (2009)

It’s funny how big Joseph Gordon-Levitt has gotten over the past few years. Last year’s 50/50 definitely had it’s moment. His involvement with Christopher Nolan is attaching him to some top-quality material (2010’s Inception, this year’s Dark Knight Rises), while the past few years haven’t been too shabby either. 500 Days of Summer (2009) seems to have solidified him as the practical guy you can relate to while girls just dig his “regular guy” approach to acting. I’d say the “boy next door” approach but I really hate that term. Nevertheless, in honor of TDKR and September’s Sci-Fi/Action film, Looper, also starring Bruce Willis, it doesn’t seem like JGL is really showing signs of slowing down. That being said, it was hard to choose which of his films to do over the past few years. Angels in the Outfield (1994) was my first choice but maybe something a little more recent?

The Lookout is a Suspense/Noir starring Gordon-Levitt as Chris Pratt, a former all-star high-school hockey player who has everything ahead of him. Then a car accident takes it all away from him. Now, left with no scholarship and a head injury, Chris has to write everything down to remember it. He has to meet with a counselor (Carla Gugino) every week to make sure things are going decently. He’s detached from his family who doesn’t understand his problem, and the manager at Chris’ bank won’t promote him from janitor to bank teller because of his condition. Nothing seems to progress- until Gary Spargo shows up and tells Chris how things really are. Gary’s cool, always has a couple girls standing by, and seems to know how everything works. Too bad Gary wants to rob Chris’ bank and he wants Chris involved as the lookout. Seems simple enough but does Chris want to go through with it? Is there anything why he wouldn’t want to go through with it?

When I initially watched this movie back in ’07, I was a little disappointed. I think I expected faster pacing, Quentin Tarantino-esque dialogue, and more action. I wasn’t too crazy about it although I still liked it. A couple years later, after getting ahold of it for three dollars at a closing video store, I gave it another shot and loved it. All the things that I was disappointed in originally now became the movie’s strong points. The pacing is not sped up, but moreso cool and collected, with the occasional flashback, much like Chris’ daily routine. He’s not so much collected as much as he’s trying. Notes are left everywhere, a less dramatic way of remembering things than Memento’s Leonard Shelby who tattoos them to his body. Jeff Daniels plays Gordon-Levitt’s roommate Lewis, a blind telemarketer who’s insights into Chris’ familiars as well as voicemail instructions on how to prepare dinner help Chris throughout the day.

Jeff Daniels is the standout role in this by far. His character is, in many ways, not as important as others yet in helping us understand much of Chris’ lifestyle, we have Daniels’ character Lewis. It’s especially helpful throughout a film that carries such a dry tone for the major duration, to have a character who doesn’t take himself as seriously. Being possibly the only comedic relief in the movie, Lewis is the counterweight to the rest of the film, keeping it grounded in the real world while encouraging Chris in the most practical (and almost condescending) ways that he’s not “retarded” and jut needs to have more patience with himself. Without Daniels character, the film as the potential to take itself a little too seriously in the Crime/Drama department, but Daniels’ role keeps the film going strong in any scenes he’s in. He’s also a great propellant for JGL’s character to be further fueled to go along with his new buddy’s heist; do I really want to stay in this crappy place, making no money and coming up with get-rich quick schemes with this annoying blind guy? You can see it all over his face in some scenes while he’s verbal about it in others.

The setting is nice as well and fits the movie perfectly, giving it a feel that very few movies attempt. Shot in Canada, the backdrops we’re shown are cold and icy; maybe a little to similar to the mindset of the characters in Chris’ world. Isolated, bitter, empty. It isn’t until Gary’s arrival are we introduced to the warm light of bedrooms and pool halls…while a trip down to Gary’s base of operations in the basement takes us back to that cold, familiar look.

Isla Fisher plays Luvlee Lemons, a girl who, if you can’t tell by the name, is not all she seems. Although tagging along with Gary, Chris would like her to be. It’s especially funny when she first meets Lewis, a man who can’t see with his eyes, but is immediately able to see her for what she is, while Chris is too caught up on the look of everything. When Luvlee asks Daniels’ character how he came to be blind, he quickly responds, “I stared at the sun too long.” She doesn’t get it, but we do and it makes us like his character even more. Not too completely leave him out, Greg Dunham’s silent portrayal of Bone, has a strange feel to him. Being Gary’s right hand man and about twenty to twenty-five years older than the rest of the cast, anything involving him gives the scene a creepy, unpredictable feel. It’s nice.

As mentioned above, I had been hoping for more action when I first viewed it. Though if you know what to expect, you shouldn’t be disappointed but understand that film doesn’t go for your normal heist film, but more the struggle that Chris is going through. The Italian Job (2002) and The Bank Job (2008) can be more about the planning and execution of the job itself which can work out for a solid Action/Crime movie; while The Lookout focuses more on the central figure at hand, the man responsible for making sure that the men at work aren’t interupted by “Deputy Doughnut.” A more focused, personal perspective is what gives this film it’s unique feel, as opposed to how truly brilliant all the operatives are.

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