Directed by Scott Frank
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 99 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French
Subtitles: EHD, Spanish, French
Release Date: August 14, 2007
Review Date: August 5, 2007
One of the most wonderful things about moviegoing (and movie reviewing) happens when one stumbles across a film that hasn’t been hyped to the skies, doesn’t have big name stars, and yet hooks you from the beginning so that you’re willing to go anywhere the writer and director and actors want to take you. Scott Frank’s The Lookout is one such movie. I knew nothing about it before I began watching the film, and yet I was completely under its spell for the entire running time. It’s a heist film but with some refreshing touches and a central, very appealing character.
Former golden boy Chris Pratt’s life does a complete turnaround when he’s the victim of a horrendous crash which leaves him with moderate brain damage. Functional but operating under some handicaps he can’t seem to conquer, Chris works as the night janitor at a bank in Noel, Kansas. Over the course of a few days, he’s shrewdly manipulated into aiding a group of thieves into pulling off a major bank heist. Knowing that it’s wrong but thinking this caper might mark a change in his life’s fortunes, Chris finds himself wrestling with his conscience against his need for control which a share of the money might possibly give him. One can’t help rooting for Chris to see what’s happening and to make the right decisions, but even doing that will have severe consequences that he’ll have to face, dealing with all of this through impaired brain functions which hamper his ability to be on top of his game.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Chris, and it’s a high point in an already fascinating career for this young actor. The mental impairment his character faces is manifested beautifully in both physical and vocal ways being completely believable and aiding greatly in the audience’s ability to sympathize with him. Jeff Daniels plays a blind middle aged hippie who shares lodgings with Chris, each man helping the other cope with the bumps that life manages to put in their way. Matthew Goode makes a great, sleazy con man who enlists Chris’ help by the use of former stripper Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher) whom Goode directs to seduce Chris into joining their little band of bandits. Sergio Di Zio as a friendly cop, Bruce McGill as Chris’ crusty father, and Carla Gugino as Chris’ case worker also make strong impressions.
Scott Frank has written about the underbelly of everyday life before in such films as Out of Sight and Get Shorty and he’s played mind-twisting games in thrillers such as Dead Again, Malice, and Minority Report, but here he’s also getting to direct his own script, and for a debut effort, it’s glorious work. There are hauntingly beautiful scenes that lead to the horrific crash early in the film (a crash we relive a time or two later complete with gruesome sound and visual effects). He keeps the camera close so we can see the effort it takes Chris to do simple things like shaving or opening cans of food. The heist sequence and its aftermath are directed with a riveting style and pace, and the film’s last quarter hour is in many ways heart-stopping.
Shot with Panavision’s Genesis video camera rather than on film, the 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer is spotless in quality. The color scheme is subdued for the movie, so colors don’t pop at all (think The Ice Storm). However, sharpness is well above average, and blacks are solid. As the main story occurs during the winter, the whites from snow do not bloom. There is also no edge enhancement to mar the transfer. This is an all-around excellent transfer lacking just that extra degree of sharpness that would have earned it a perfect score. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a solid effort that uses the rear channels most effectively during the flashback sequences (the wreck, a hockey game), but often music and ambient sounds are sent across the front channels leaving the rears unused. Obviously, there are no audio artifacts to mar the listening experience.
Writer-director Scott Frank and cinematographer Alar Kivilo provide a running commentary that is mostly based on the location scouting and shooting of the film in Winnipeg (though some anecdotes about the actors do enter into the discussion from time to time). The two men have an easy camaraderie that makes the listening experience a pleasure, and their down-to-earth and honest comments about their mistakes and triumphs in the lensing of the film hold one’s attention.
“Sequencing The Lookout” is an effective making-of featurette with Scott Frank and several from the cast offering background and opinions on the film’s production. One valuable quality of this documentary is that we get to hear the natural speaking voices of several in the cast who do superb jobs of disguising their nationalities with accurate American accents in the actual film. This 20–minute featurette has been divided into five chapters and is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Behind the Mask of Chris Pratt” allows star Joseph Gordon-Levitt to discuss his preparation for the difficult assignment of portraying a brain damaged individual. This featurette runs around 6½ minutes and is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
The Miramax trailers on the disc include Neverwas, Our Very Own, Renaissance, The Hoax, Becoming Jane, and The Invisible. There is no trailer for The Lookout.
In much the same way as Memento presented a main character coping with some difficulty with a frustrating life that fate has handed him, so too does The Lookout bristle with a moody tale which completely grips the viewer. If you’re up for a serious character study reflected through a compelling crime drama, The Lookout is a movie that I can heartily recommend.