Judge Ryan Keefer's experience with lookouts was to employ them while he smoked in the high school bathroom. He's hardcore, yo.
Whoever has the money has the power.
Rather anonymously, a sleepy heist thriller named The Lookout has been at or near the top of most critics' ten best lists for the first half of 2007. Featuring aspiring performances and capable direction from a first-time director, the film finally arrives on the shiny next generation format. Is it worth the hype? And how's the thing look on Blu-ray?
Facts of the Case
Scott Frank has written many a crime film for other directors through the years, such as by adapting Elmore Leonard works like Out of Sight and Get Shorty, but he has gotten more recognizable with his contributions to Minority Report and The Interpreter. With The Lookout, he decided to take care of numero uno, and write a script that he wound up directing. In it, Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Third Rock from the Sun) is a promising hockey player who is driving his girlfriend and his friends around, presumably after the prom. Chris gets into an accident, killing two of the people in the car and leaving him without his short-term memory.
Flash forward four years later, and Chris is still putting his life in order, using some rehabilitative techniques designed to improve his memory. He works nights as a janitor in a bank, and lives in an apartment with his friend, the visually impaired Lewis (Jeff Daniels, Good Night, and Good Luck). He runs into an old high school alum in Gary (Matthew Goode, Match Point), who befriends him, but also has an interesting proposition for him as well.
You know what's great about a guy who cut his teeth on adapting Elmore Leonard books? You're usually going to get a good story or great dialogue. The Lookout has a good story and good dialogue, made all the more cohesive and appealing by the actors. Much of the negative opinion on this film seems to be lumping in Gordon-Levitt's performance with something similar to what Guy Pearce did in Memento. I've got to strongly disagree with this. The kid from Third Rock provides far more emotion than Pearce did, and as he appears in virtually every scene in the movie, the movie is less about the bank robbery and more about Chris regaining his past. The journeys to each are separate, but they do parallel quite a bit.
The other actors certainly do their jobs as well. I liked Daniels in his supporting role, but the scene stealer is Goode. He's got this tone—even when he's a badass—that really makes you hate him. The simple fact that he's trying to manipulate a kid with a head injury is loathsome enough, but he still manages to be ice cold even when Chris starts to have second thoughts. And there are some other recognizable faces in here too, as Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers) plays Chris' "girlfriend" Luvlee, Bruce McGill (The Insider) is the father, and Carla Gugino (Sin City) has a brief role as the counselor for Chris. The bank teller who helps Chris learn about the job is Alex Borstein, who you might not know unless I said she does the voice of Lois Griffin in Family Guy.
As a first time director, Frank doesn't try to overreach either, which is nice to see as some directors tend to be enamored with pretentious brushes of style to a film. Frank actually does something welcome; he lets the story speak for itself. Knowing that he's put out some quality scripts in the past certainly helps, and he doesn't let Frank the director get in the way of it. There are a couple of moments where the film is played with a bit technically (during flashback sequences mainly), but other than that, the focus is on the story, as well it should.
From a technical perspective, I really liked how this MPEG-4 encoded 2.40:1 widescreen disc looked. The whites in the flashback sequences are a little overblown (an accident according to the commentary on the disc), but it doesn't carry over into the film itself, the blacks are excellent, providing a nice level of contrast. The film was shot on digital, which is probably one reason for the excellent picture. The PCM soundtrack is subtle without having to overpower you; it's like slipping into a warm bath of enveloping sounds. The score sounds solid, the dialogue is clear, and some low end fidelity is used to decent effect.
The extras are the same as those on the standard definition disc, starting with a commentary between Frank and Director of Photography Alar Kivilo (The Ice Harvest). Frank has been a good commentary participant in the past (Out of Sight being one of the better tracks I've listened to, period), and this one is full of technical information and quite frankly, Kivilo seems to drive the track more than Frank does. They shot breakdowns and the occasional recollection of what happened during the production. It's well worth checking out for aspiring filmmakers. "Sequencing The Lookout" is your basic making-of featurette with interviews from the cast and crew as they discuss the film, each other, the production or in the case of the crew, their particular parts of it. "Behind the Mind of Chris Pratt" focuses on Gordon-Levitt's preparation for the role and how he approached the character. He was given the role almost a year before production started, so he certainly had time to prepare. Both of the smaller pieces aren't too bad but aren't terribly informative.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are two points that keep me from overly gushing about the film, albeit minor ones. In the middle of the third act, there's a sequence which can be described as a bit of a montage. And sure, even Rocky had a montage, but it cheapened the film a bit. Second, the character Bone is your stereotypical "speak softly, carry a big stick" type. He's played by Greg Dunham, in his first acting role, but the guy is a dead fricken' ringer for Rutger Hauer. The problem is, he doesn't do or say anything until the third act, and he's left virtually ignored in the run-up to the heist. In fact, I don't recall anyone saying his name until Chris writes it down, but I could be wrong. But again, these are two small blemishes.
From an extras perspective, The Lookout might not carry much, but it is quite the pleasantly surprising film about loss and finding your way in the world again, set against the anticipation of a robbery. The story and actors are both excellent, and I encourage everyone to check this one out at their first opportunity.
Judge Ryan Keefer gets up, takes a shower with soap, and pronounces The Lookout not guilty of the crimes it is accused of.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Writer/Director Scott Frank and Director of Photography Alar Kivilo
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