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RUNNING TIME: 99 Minutes
• Commentary with writer/director Scott Frank and DP Alar Kivilo
• Sequencing The Lookout featurette
• “Behind the Mind of Chris Pratt”
“It’s like Fargo, except minus the good stuff!”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Bruce McGill, Isla Fisher
Chris Pratt’s a tortured soul. A once-promising hockey player, Chris is left mentally damaged following a tragic (and stupid) car accident. Worse than that, Chris feels adrift in the world, struggling to cope with his disabilities and to reestablish some semblance of normalcy to his life. Thanks to good ol’ fate, some very bad apples come his way, promising Chris a lotta money in exchange for a little criminal activity.
I don’t care if you’re fucked three ways from Sunday in the head. This is never a good idea in movies like this.
Initially, I was just going to call The Lookout disappointing and move on. Long story short, it’s a well-made, exceedingly well-acted little crime movie that is not very well written and gets exceedingly dumber as it goes along. That would’a been end of story for me, but ever since I watched the flick, I’ve been seeing more and more reviews lavishing the flick with undue praise. This is an extremely flawed film, and I wonder if I’m taking crazy pills when I see guys like Richard Roeper call the flick “a masterpiece” and “the best film of the year so far.” The fuck? In a year where we get Zodiac and fucking Sunshine, that no-good jizz sponge of a Siskel replacement calls this flick the best of the year? And he’s not the only one.
So I decided, for good or ill, fuck this movie.
Its number one problem is a severe lack of focus. This flick is half character study, half crime story. The first deals with Gordon-Levitt’s Chris Pratt reassessing his life after a near-fatal accident. The second deals with his induction into crime. And there is no transition whatsoever. This flick is definitely a neo-noir wannabe, and yet no part of Chris’ slide into crime feels inevitable and organic. We get forty minutes or so watching his struggle as a re-re with no future, and then Bang! The bad guys are manipulating him to take part in a bank heist, and we’re off to the races in a different movie.
Now, I’ve been told that this is just form meeting content. Chris is always off-guard, so why shouldn’t we be—hence the abrupt shift. I even read his lack of criminal slide interpreted as an ironic twist to the noir conventions; Chris is so screwed up mentally that, unlike John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice or Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, he has no conception of the trouble he’s in. I don’t buy that shit. Scott Frank tells this story in a very straightforward manner, so even though Chris is often unaware of his circumstances, we never are. If the film were shot and told in a way to keep us more off-balance (mimicking Chris’ condition, something that one of its original directors, David Fincher, would have excelled at), this argument could hold water. As it stands, every plot point is telegraphed way in advance to us, making it agonizingly obvious what’s gonna go down in the climactic scenes. That’s not suspense, and it’s not form meeting content—it’s bad writing.
The problems go further than the focus issue; taken on their own, each of the halves doesn’t work as well. The first half fails as a character study because it never feels believable. Chris’ condition is that wonderful movie brand of mental illness, where, depending on the whims of the script, Chris can show signs of emotional instability, Tourette’s, extreme memory loss a la Memento, and Rain Man-like obsessiveness. It’s a grab bag of maladies, and it’s far too precious and far-fetched to be believable. Levitt’s a great fucking actor (check out Mysterious Skin here or Brick here), and he does his best considering the ludicrousness of the role, but I never bought his condition in the slightest. Plus, he’s one of those disabled folk, again indigenous to Hollywood, whose disabilities simply vanish when required to clearly and concisely list to other all his mental problems.
At least the first half tried to present an interesting, different kind of protagonist. The second half is just like every B-crime movie ever made. Matthew Goode is terrific as mastermind Gary Spargo, but other than his compulsive inhaler usage, he’s the same slimy charmer you see in all these movies. His coterie of ne’er-do-well teammates consists of two or three guys needed solely for cannon fodder and, of course, the near-mute “Wild Card” who we know will turn psycho at the end because he towers over the other characters, has stringy and long black hair, and never takes off his sunglasses. Added to all that, the number of bullshit junior mistakes the characters make in this segment rises exponentially. Characters who should flee don’t. Or they draw attention to their loved ones. Or they, say, hide huge sums of money in the most obvious places one can think of. And Chris’ mental blocks damn near vanish during the last ten minutes, just so he can face off against the baddies in the violent conclusion. In real life, a guy like him would shit his pants and go into an epileptic seizure, not start packing heat and outwitting far smarter people. If this wasn’t enough, you got a terrible femme fatale performance from Isla Fisher and an improbable Super Mega Happy Ending borrowed from Wayne’s World that negates what little cred the flick had left.
A few things are unequivocally terrific here. Judging from this flick, Frank could be a damn fine director. He’s very straightforward in his approach, and while that hurts this flick, it’s stylish and appealing nonetheless. I especially liked his use of digital video, especially during the night scenes. As Ted the Night Deputy, Sergio Di Zio takes what could be a stock part (the sweet, slightly dim cop unaware of the shit going down around him) and runs with it beautifully—when things get violent, he’s the only character whose actions surprise, and it felt genuinely refreshing. And Jeff Daniels walks away with the flick. The blind mentor to Chris, his Lewis is the most complex and interesting character in sight, funny and unique and appealingly unsympathetic. Oh yeah, and the line “I have the money, I have the power” becomes ridiculously funny by the point Chris feels the need to repeat it ad nauseum. My friends and I have quickly adopted it as the go-to phrase to call one another stupid, and tenuous connections like that keep our friendship alive.
But by the by, this is not a good flick. If you’re into Midwestern noir, then I’d go with Fargo, or last year’s ridiculously underrated The Ice Harvest (Show some love and buy a copy here!). Hell, even this one’s “mentally disturbed protagonist” subject has been done, and better, before—James Foley’s brilliant After Dark, My Sweet is a tough and uncompromising a little piece of neo-noir as I’ve ever seen. That one, you should see (Buy it here!).
This one really isn’t as worth your time. And don’t let anyone (fuck you, Richard Roeper) convince you otherwise.
The disc looks terrific. The nighttime scenes and heist sequence look the best, well showing off DP Alar Kivilo’s work on digital video. Sound’s never very impressive, but it’s never really called on to be, save for a few gunshots near the end. As for the box art, it’s slightly misleading—it’s got Gordon-Levitt, Goode, and Daniels lined up in a row, all looking menacing. Basically, it makes Daniels out to be some big badass, and as good as he is here, he’s more the comic relief than anything.
Though limited, the special features aren’t bad. The Sequencing featurette is the least of the three because it’s mostly EPK glad-handing. “Behind the Mind” has too many clips from the flick, but at least Gordon-Levitt gives good insight into how he crafted his character. I disagree with him, but it’s still interesting to see. And the commentary is terrific. Frank’s always given good commentary, and this one is no exception. He’s brutally honest about the flick and gives a lot of good information on its shooting and its troubled history.
I don’t get the praise for this one. It’s got oodles of promise and is well made, but my oh my, what a mess it becomes by the end. At least the DVD is solid, with good picture/sound quality and some decent special features. I just can’t recommend it, though.