No wrong turns in The Lookout
By Steven Snyder
What a brilliant performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the most unexpected, captivating not to mention memorable movie of the year thus far.
Theres a moment late in the goings on here, when Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin, Brick) yells into a cell phone, his world crashing down around him, that has as much punch, bite and intensity to it as anything to be found in the latest movies featuring such heavyweights as Leonardo Di Caprio or Al Pacino. It is a scathing, searing moment conveyed with even a hint of transcendence and in a flash it proves that, with only his third marquee role, he has all the gravitas and fire to match those acting giants at their own game.
Yet that moment of rage, of anger and authoritative zeal comes far later in The Lookout than some might expect a final triumph for Chris Pratt (Gordon-Levitt), a timid, shy and impaired antihero who spends his days trapped within the confines of his own fractured mind.
The movie opens to a scene of freeway joyriding, as Chris, his girlfriend and his friends speed down a rural highway, their car lights turned off to see the gorgeous fireflies floating over the road in the night sky. As he accelerates further and further, blinded by the night, it becomes all too clear that a tragedy is waiting only yards down the road.
A flash forward of several years slowly reveals hints of what happened that fateful night. With his own voice, Chris narrated his daily routine, detailing how his life is now comprised of an endless ritual of showers, bowls of cereal, nights spent working as the janitor of a bank branch and afternoon visits for therapy. It turns out he barely survived that car wreck years back a crash that killed his two friends, but left both Chris and his girlfriend permanently compromised. Today, he has no short-term memory, and finds himself forced to write constant reminders to himself, small notes that detail how to perform even the most basic of tasks (in one scene, he forgets how to use a can opener).
His only friend is a blind roommate (Jeff Daniels) who keeps an eye out (figuratively speaking) for Chris, leaving him a cooked dinner every night.
Yet what makes The Lookout such a surprise and such a joy is that it runs wild across multiple genres. One night at a bar, the story of personal struggle seems to pause mid-sentence as The Lookout morphs suddenly into a romance, Chris suddenly the subject of Luvlees (Isla Fisher) affections. The closer he gets to her, the more he slowly comes to realize what has been obvious to the audience for quite a while: That Luvlee may just be a pawn working for Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), a man who claims to know Chris from high school but who secretly has a plan to use the brain-scarred former athlete as his accomplice in robbing the bank Chris keeps looking spic-and-span.
What unravels from there is a fascinating, unlikely, twisting road of deceit at first about a robbery, then about a double-cross, a triple-cross and finally that heated phone call where Chris, the frail, broken boy, finally unleashes a sentence with such confident defiance that he becomes, for the first time, a defiant man.
Theres no denying the many similarities between this and Christopher Nolans brilliant 2000 hit Memento, which featured Guy Pearce as a brain-damaged character and told his story in reverse, revealing to us just what he was forgetting about the last hour, and the last day. But the difference between Memento and The Lookout is Chris complex, confused psyche and Gordon-Levitts sophisticated, wildly varied performance, which makes this story a not just a maze of whodunit, but also a mystery about motive, mentality and meaning.
And relationships. Whether its Chris trying to size up Luvlee, leaning on his blind roommate or wistfully thinking about his ex-girlfriend who has not spoken to him since the crash, The Lookout is less a movie about tricky clues than touching characters. Because of that, its not only a thriller about Chris surviving the dangers of a hold-up, but also a rich drama about how this surreal bank robbery leads him to finally muster the courage to confront his own demons, and overcome the pains of the past.