The Lookout

(2007) *** 1/2 R
99 min. Miramax Films. Director: Scott Frank. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Isla Fisher, Carla Gugino, Matthew Goode.

One of the most enjoyable films of the year to date, Scott Frank's The Lookout has all the good points and none of the bad of a screenwriter-turned-director labor of love. Frank's carefully composed entry in the neo-noir genre offers a lean, focused, moody plot seasoned with intriguing characters and a palpable love of dialogue.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays bank custodian Chris Pratt, a young man hampered by a life-changing brain injury. It's a character seldom seen on screen (even less often portrayed with any sensitivity), and one that feels especially relevant as damaged soldiers stream home from Iraq. The derailed scion of a well-to-do but emotionally withholding family, Chris is ripe for seduction and exploitation at the hands of a criminal gang.

Promises of sex, power, and the restoration of misplaced pride appeal to a man trying to forgive himself for the devastating misjudgements in his past, but Chris only slips deeper into the hole. With a bit of help from his blind roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels), Chris pieces together a plan that might, at last, allow him to reclaim his lost life.

Part of what keeps The Lookout so interesting is the way Frank and Gordon-Levitt, in perfect sync, peel back Chris' layers. Seemingly the diminished remainder of a reckless sort with average intelligence, Chris gradually betrays greater depth. Tempted though we may be to view him as pure-hearted, he has a history of gratuituous violence. Like Chris, the motley characters who surround him are vibrant and demonstrate a capacity to surprise.

Gordon-Levitt's support—including a delightfully crass Daniels, Matthew Goode as the gang's ringleader, and Isla Fisher as Chris' tentative girlfriend—is likewise spot-on, but the real star is Frank, who established his screenwriting brilliance with a string of crackerjack scripts (Dead Again, Out of Sight, Minority Report). Here again he expertly layers character development and story, seamlessly entertwined with a self-awareness of narrative structure; like Memento, The Lookout tinkers with the mind's capacity to process and order the episodes in the story of a life.

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