Ritual. Pattern. Repetition: Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Chris, the popular, small town, rich-kid and high-school ice-hockey star who learns the mantra to tackle his anxiety. Scott Frank is the writer and director of The Lookout who takes the same advice to heart in his directorial debut. The Out of Sight screenwriter has made a good revision of mini-heist, survival, coming-of-age thrillers.
Chris is driving too fast with the lights off, down an empty country road, showing off the glow-worms in the hope of romance. What he gets is a devastating crash that kills two of his three passengers and leaves him with serious memory problems. To cope he must make lists to remember who, what, where, why, when and how he is supposed to do things. He does manage to hold down a humble, after-hours janitorial job at a local bank and shares an apartment with a blind man, Lewis (Jeff Daniels).
Enter Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), Chriss old school mate, who uses his charismatic flair to make Chris feel like somebody. Goode does a great job as a bullying manipulator and has a flawless American accent to boot. The plot thickens when it is revealed that he needs a lookout for a bank robbery for which Chris is perfectly placed. He goads Chriss desire to be independent whoever has the money has the power, aggravating his sense of hopelessness and his guilt until he finally complies and the drama unfolds.
Frank has an admirably clean style which can focus on atmospheric details like the shady vision of a gun cabinet over a broody chess game full of snide remarks. Such designs might draw comparisons with the neo-noir conventions already seen in Woody Allens Match Point. Nevertheless while it does bring us close to Chriss blank perspective this attentiveness also becomes precarious when it starts feeling more stoic than tense. During the heist scene the mechanical direction is a major detractor, neither icy nor bubbling with anxiety.
There are also a few too many loose ends and oversimplified narrative distractions. Former stripper turned administrative assistant, Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher), is part of Spargos entourage. She appears at one point to be a duplicitous character, bait for the confused Chris but then without reasoning disappears in a taxi cab under the semblance of weeping secretarial wholesomeness while mourning the loss of her love. Deputy Doughnut, Ted, is killed protecting the bank but despite his amiable persona and constant reminders that he has a pregnant wife his dopey death feels pretty anonymous. The worst of these two dimensional creations is Bone, the gothic gang leader, who is drowning in the milieu of cartoonish clich.
Even the protagonist suffers from a sketchy structure. His transformation from a waif to warrior is not convincing. Levitt is a textbook, pensive, moody teenager even after stronger performances in Brick and Mysterious Skin, although he still adds power to the pulse of the subdued directorial approach.
Jeff Daniels has the best of the witty lines, smelling sex and declaring a gimps night out, but Scott Frank is capable of much snappier dialogue. The weak addition of Chriss intermittent voiceover provides very little empathetic effect and highlights the pedestrian pace of a few private sequences that should have taken us further into Chriss psychology.
The Lookout is a deliberately-told story dealing with guilt, greed and guile. It cleverly creates a cathartic relationship with the protagonist which makes it unique in its presentation of whats otherwise an old and rather boring story.