The protagonist of The Lookout , Chris Pratt, has suffered brain damage after a near fatal car crash, on a lonely Kansas road, on the way to the prom. It was his fault, and some friends in the car got killed. We don’t see the details. Now, in addition to the memory lapses, narcolepsy, and trouble sequencing events, he is carrying crushing guilt.
So Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has eked out the smallest of lives. He shares a tiny apartment, paid for by his wealthy father, with a co-dependent blind man, Louis (Jeff Daniels, who gets lots of interesting scenes). Chris Pratt carries a little notebook to remind himself what to do after he wakes up. Something as simple as a can of tomatoes can defeat him; he tries to open it with a garlic press. He spends afternoons at the life skills clinic and seeing his lovely therapist, whom he hits on without inhibition or hope.
It makes sense that Chris Pratt, in his part-time job as a janitor at a little country bank, on display each night in the well-lit windows, draws a bad man. Gary Spargo’s first words, which he speaks to his crew waiting outside in a threatening black car, are, "That’s Chris Pratt". Everybody says the name like that, in full; they stick it on him like a label. Some mean the handsome star hockey player; some mean a privileged rich kid; some mean a helpless child; some mean a shambling, depressive wreck. For dark-eyed Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), plotting to knock off the bank, "Chris Pratt" means the perfect inside man: available, easy to manipulate, and disposable.
Every plot point I’ve recounted so far not only draws us into the story, but figures in the climax in some way. The writer/director, Scott Frank, has written some of the tightest genre scripts of the last twenty years: Dead Again , Minority Report , and two crackling Elmore Leonard adaptations, Get Shorty and Out of Sight . Now that he has his shot as director, instead of going for stylized camerawork, as directors on a budget often do, he has stuck with his characters. It makes for a utilitarian camera, but who cares? His film is more Year of the Gun than Blood Simple .
Those characters keep surprising you. Chris is lured, by the promise of his first sex in years, by a honey trap with the memorable stripper name of Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher). Wearing pajamas or modest pink panties or oven mitts, she’s playing the wholesome girl next door; maybe she’s even fooled herself. We’ve seen a femme fatale decide what she decides – in Delusion , say – but never so early in the film. Another character exists only to be martyred, but I wonder if that’s not a joke.
Before The Lookout , who would have thought that disability was the perfect subject for a heist movie? As Gary Spargo puts it, "Everybody’s got a weakness." Look at what he’s reaching for at the end, and you’ll have the theme.
This and other theater and music reviews can be read, listened to, or podcast at wfiu.org. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.