Watching The Lookout, I never really wondered how Joseph Gordon-Levitt was going to do. I wondered about Jeff Daniels, for instance, since Daniels spent the late 1990s working up his number of excellent performances only to fade from things I watch. Gordon-Levitt… looking over his IMDb, I’m not sure the guy’s ever been bad. He might have even been good on the “Dark Shadows” revival when he was ten. The Lookout presents him with an odd leading man role, the kind actors usually save for Oscar-ready™ movies (oddly, The Lookout‘s from Miramax, king of the Oscar-ready™ movie). He runs the movie–besides the voiceovers, he’s in all but three scenes–and it’s with a really sure hand. Gordon-Levitt’s apparently the child actor with the goods, especially since his character isn’t particularly likable. At a certain point, he’s getting mad at someone for pitying him–and the viewer has been pitying him too, because he’s got a mental condition and it’s hard to identify with him… but he’s also responsible for his particular tragedy. It creates a great situation, keeping the character distant throughout, with the viewer ending the film maybe more unsure of the character than he or she was when it started.
Anyway, the breakout. There’s a breakout performance in The Lookout. I forgot about him because I was going on about Gordon-Levitt. Matthew Goode, who’s got a handful of credits, is fantastic as the bad guy. His character–who’s perfectly awful–might turn out to be honest than Gordon-Levitt’s. Scott Frank, who has done some great stuff, usually adaptations, takes the film noir’s standard deceptions and shrinks them, embedding them in the characters’ relationships from moment to moment. The Lookout‘s success comes from how incredibly emotional the whole thing works out to be.
I had thought it was another adaptation–maybe from something good, just because some of Frank’s choices suggest good source material, but knowing now it wasn’t adapted (it had no opening credits beyond the production companies and a title), it’s obvious. Frank’s in love with four of the characters in The Lookout, four and a half even, and it’s great to see.
I was just thinking this morning–really–about how the wheel doesn’t necessarily need to be reinvented, it just needs to roll as well as possible. The Lookout‘s not a new wheel so much as a nice amalgamation of a couple wheels… it’s sort of a heist slash crime thriller (with a twist–I kept thinking about Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn during the first fifteen or twenty minutes), but it’s really not; it’s a thoughtful character study of an unknowable character, one impervious to examination. Even when he’s doing voiceovers. A good character study always makes the viewer (or reader) wait to get at the character–and here’s where The Lookout‘s borrowing that crime thriller device–but let the viewer get close enough, but not know what he or she is looking at? It’s special.
My only real quibble with The Lookout concerns Frank’s direction. It’s good, not flashy, very matter of fact, but he switches over to a lousy DV for a shoot-out. It’s his cinematographer’s fault, sure, but it’s so obvious, I can’t help but wonder if it was a style thing. It’ll probably look fine on DVD… but it was distracting. Nicely, he follows it with one of Gordon-Levitt’s finest scenes in the film.
Written and directed by Scott Frank; director of photography, Alar Kivilo; edited by Jill Savitt; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Brisbin; produced by Walter Parkes, Laurence Mark, Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber; released by Miramax Films.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Chris Pratt), Jeff Daniels (Lewis), Matthew Goode (Gary Spargo), Greg Dunham (Bone), Carla Gugino (Janet), Bruce McGill (Robert Pratt), Isla Fisher (Luvlee Lemons), Alberta Watson (Barbara Pratt) and Alex Borstein (Mrs. Lange).