The Lookout (2007)

Initially, lots of things about The Lookout appear unpromising: not one but two actors playing ‘handicapped’, including a lead who used to star in a silly TV comedy, a hackneyed plot and a writer graduating to directing.

Anyone who avoided the movie for those reasons would not only be stupid, but would deservedly have missed a great thriller. This is the directorial debut of Scott Frank, previously best known for writing Out of Sight, Heaven’s Prisoners (for his brother-in-law Phil Joanou) and Minority Report. And more recently Marley and Me

The Lookout

The Lookout – Daniels, Gordon-Levitt, parking meter.

Anyway, The Lookout has a fine script but otherwise you’d never guess Frank was a novice; the movie has all the virtues you’d associate with veteran directors. The visual style, suitably bleak, is carefully controlled and the characters are given time to breathe without slowing the plot – more accurately, the characters are so well-written and played that we don’t really care that the promised heist takes a long time to arrive.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Chris, a teenager who has it all then throws it away in a car crash, sustaining brain damage and killing his friends. The story picks up when he’s moved in with blind mentor Lewis, played by Jeff Daniels, who brings some much-needed humour to the movie. Although this is advertised as a heist movie, the central thrust of the story is really Chris’ attempt to find redemption or at least rediscover some purpose and respect in his life. He gets a job as a cleaner in a small bank, and is soon befriended by a charismatic thug called Gary and his friend, a tart with the unlikely name of Luvlee Lemons (Matthew Goode and Isla Fisher, both managing credible American accents and better performances than in their other more famous movies).

You can probably see how the wheels of this plot are going to turn, but what makes the movie exceptional is the depth of the characters created by Scott Frank. All the leads are great but there are also two knockout performances from actors who have less to go on: Greg Dunham plays Bone,  Gary’s right-hand man, with a menace unequalled by any actor in recent movies; and Sergio Di Zio plays a friendly local deputy whose fate is telegraphed but manages to make it moving anyway. Small roles go to bigger stars, the likes of Carla Gugino, Bruce McGill and Alberta Watson, presumably happy to work with Frank again.

The second half of the movie focuses on the heist, and whether Chris has enough left to make something positive of the rough hand he’s dealt himself. It’s a terrific performance by Gordon-Levitt, managing to gain our sympathy for his plight without resorting to any obvious tics or over-acting. In the end, there are a couple of gaping holes in the plot, and it’s all a bit too conveniently resolved (the fate of one of the characters seems to have been left on the cutting room floor) but the investment in the characters pays off in a satisfying way. As with all great movies, you’ll be thinking about The Lookout long after it’s finished.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★★☆

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