Saturday, April 14, 2007

FILM: "The Lookout"

As a writer, I always get a personal thrill from watching another author put down the pen and paper for a moment to get behind (or in front of) the camera. There's no passing the buck at this point, no middle-man to reinterpret the idea: The Lookout is Scott Frank channeling Scott Frank, and there's nothing holding him back. Except for the genre of film: I get the creepy notion, watching Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) trying to sequence the events of a normal day, that I'm watching Little Man Tate trapped in a thriller.

To give another parallel, this film is a little like watching the world of The Talented Mr. Ripley creeping in to Good Will Hunting. On one level, Chris is trying to recover from the car crash that has made him dependent on routine and careful organization. His family (as depicted in a very creepy, wonderful return home) can't accept that he's no longer a rising young hockey star, his old friends (including his old girlfriend, whom he crippled) can't look him in the eye for fear of seeing their own mortality, and all he's got is the wonderfully wry shoulder of his wise, blind roommate, Lewis, to pick up the pieces of some sort of life. On the other, Gary (Matthew Goode) would like to manipulate him with sexual distractions like Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher), into not only helping him rob the bank (Chris is a janitor), but into taking the fall as well. The problem with these colliding themes (real as they may be) is that whereas Memento wound the two up into one narratively thrilling adventure, The Lookout reveals everything to us far in advance: Chris may forget that he's hidden a gun, but the audience remembers, and so there are no surprises, and without surprises, there's no thrill--just drama.

Luckily, the drama's pretty good. So's the direction. These are fine actors, and the only ones who don't get fleshed out are the fodder-like robbers there to help Gary with the heist. My favorite characters are probably the most minimized: there's Deputy Ted (Sergio Di Zio), who stops by the bank with a box of donuts every night just to spend time with Chris and also Chris's friend, a shy teller at the bank named Mrs. Lange (Alex Borstein) who obviously has a crush on him. Whole volumes could've been spent on these characters, and while I don't blame Frank for fixating on the troubled Pratt, he needs to realize that directing is a lot like writing: the best stuff comes out of freeing yourself from the lines on the page, and going right through them.

I enjoyed The Lookout: it's a warm and genuine character study, and save for a few telegraphed scenes, it does its best to instill the audience with equal parts helplessness and hope. I don't agree that the best way to tell a story is to start at the end (any more than I like the catchphrase: "Whoever has the money has the power"), but Scott Frank doesn't either, and his straightforward approach to one man's slippery slope of life makes for some great film.

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