July 2024

The Lookout (2007)

DIRECTOR: Scott Frank


Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Bruce McGill, Greg Dunham, Carla Gugino


The Lookout is a decent little thriller that sets out with unambitious goals and mostly fulfills them. As the directorial debut of accomplished screenwriter Scott Frank (Dead Again, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report), it’s a modest effort that has an interesting premise, does a few things effectively, most things adequately, but too many things weakly to earn it more than a lukewarm recommendation. The best things about it aren’t directly related to the thriller angle, principally the effective development of an individual struggling with brain damage.

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a hotshot high school hockey player until a grisly car accident left him with a severe head injury. Four years later, he has recovered enough to function day-to-day and lead a relatively normal life, but he has trouble with short term memory. He must write down virtually everything he does so that he remembers to do it, with post-it notes everywhere telling him which switches to hit and where things go. He’s not the same person he was before, although he wants desperately to be. His father (Bruce McGill) treats him with kid gloves, he’s had no relationships since, and his only companion is his older, blind roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels), who has aspirations of starting a restaurant. One day at a bar he meets and hits it off with Gary (Matthew Goode), who lends him a sympathetic ear, claims to have gone to the same high school and dated his sister, and introduces him to an ex-stripper with the unlikely name of Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher). For a short time, it looks like Chris might have found a girlfriend and a social circle…until it turns out Gary wants to rob the bank where Chris works as a janitor and wants him to be the lookout.

The most interesting parts of The Lookout are the early scenes detailing Chris’ day-to-day existence, as we catch glimpses of post-it notes all over his apartment and follow him to classes with other people who have difficulties remembering daily activities where he takes lessons aimed at helping him keep things straight. In perhaps the most memorable scene, we see his attempt to figure out how to open a can end with him throwing drawers around the room in frustration. Also enjoyable is when Chris turns the tables on his would-be-cohorts after things go awry, especially when he repeats a lesson Gary drilled into him earlier: “whoever has the money has the power”.  Chris’ brain damage and emotional issues make him easy to take advantage of, but he’s not as helpless as Gary might think.  The run-of-the-mill bank robbery itself occupies a relatively small portion of the running time. When it is developing the character of Chris, The Lookout is on solid ground. From a thriller angle, it’s only mediocre, not anything special or memorable. The screenplay, also by Frank, has a few holes; one character inexplicably suddenly drops out of the movie and is never seen or mentioned again, and the last few scenes rely on too many flimsy contrivances and plot holes to wrap things up in an improbably neat little bow. The Lookout might be considered a thriller, but the character study aspect is much more interesting than the thriller side.  In fact, one gets the feeling this might have been more interesting if it had just been a low-key little drama/character study about Chris’ daily life; the thriller element almost feels like it gets in the way of the more interesting aspects going on before it takes center stage.

The Lookout is anchored by an effective lead performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who continues to show promise as a young actor.  Along with other such low-profile indie flicks as Mysterious Skin and Brick, this continues Gordon-Levitt’s transition from light earlier parts like the television sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun and the teen romantic comedy 10 Things I Hate About You into edgier, more grown-up material to establish himself as a serious actor. Gordon-Levitt doesn’t overdo Chris’ brain damage and daily frustrations: he keeps it low-key and believable, letting subtle touches remind us that he’s a mentally and emotionally damaged individual.  Aside from Gordon-Levitt, the best performance is by Matthew Goode as the smooth-talking Gary, who easily manipulates Chris’ loneliness, vulnerability, and resentment but might find the boy not as controllable as he thinks.  Jeff Daniels provides a little comic relief, along with a few more serious moments.  Lewis is abrasive at times, but he has Chris’ best interests at heart, maybe more than anyone else in the movie.  Isla Fisher is cute but not especially memorable.  The most intimidating cast member is Greg Dunham as Bones, Gary’s right-hand-man, who dresses all in black, never removes his sunglasses or shows a flicker of any kind of expression, and speaks only about three brief lines (and those not until almost the end of the movie). He doesn’t talk much, and we don’t know anything about him, but we know he’s not someone we want to mess with.  In small roles we have Bruce McGill as Chris’ father and Carla Gugino as his psychiatrist.

As a thriller, The Lookout is mediocre, moderately entertaining but not exceptional. Its more original qualities—centering on Chris’ daily routine—are what lend it some distinction, although overall what it has to offer is too uneven for it to really stand out. It’s not a bad film, just a somewhat undistinguished one.