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.