Joseph Gordon-Levitt is outstanding again in another unusual neo-noir
Jul 23, 2008 (Updated Jul 23, 2008)
Review by Stephen Murray
Rated a Very Helpful Review
User Rating: Excellent
Pros:script, cast, sound, denouement
Cons:menace is clear early but gathers slowly
The Bottom Line: 4.5 stars rounded up 'cause too few people have seen it! Join us!
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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2007 seems to have been a year with many outstanding performances by actors. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave awards to two well-respected actors who played implacable characters: Daniel Day-Lewis (best actor, There Will Be Blood) and Javier Bardem (best supporting actor, No Country for Old Men). I thought that Christian Bale and Steve Zahn in "Rescue Dawn" at the very least deserved to be nominated in the two categories, along with Frank Langella in "Starting Out in the Evening." Having gotten around to watching the DVD of "The Lookout," I also think that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jeff Daniels should also at least been nominated for the two acting awards.
I never saw an episode of "Third Rock from the Sun," so Joseph Gordon-Levitt's television recognizability (and the denigration for being a "tv star" and a "child actor"?) don't effect me. I thought that he was amazing in "Mysterious Skin" (2004) and very, very interesting as the high school detective in the neo-noir "Brick." (2005). (Actually, I first noticed him in a smaller part as a Mormon missionary in the 2003 "Latter Days").
"The Lookout" recalls "Memento" in focusing on a somewhat functioning survivor of head trauma who has to write things down. The movie does not have the gimmicky structure of "Memento," and former high school hockey star Chris Bratt (Gordon-Levitt) knows what he did. So does the audience, since the opening scene shows him driving without headlights to show his friends fireflies in the Kansas City countryside.
This catastrophic error of judgment led to a crash in which he was thrown 90 feet. In the movie's now he cleans a smalltown bank at night and lives with an older man who paradoxically looks out for Chris though he is blind: Lewis played in a scruffy beard by Jeff Daniels (The Squid and the Whale).
The son of a rich man (Bruce McGill), Scott has a promising future behind him. His aspiration is to become a bank teller, though the bank president (David Huband) does not consider this a serious possibility. Another possibility that neither Scott's father nor bankers take seriously is turning a gas station into a breakfast and lunch restaurant with Lewis.
Frustrated at a lack of support for these aspirations, Scott falls under the influence of ex-con Gary Spargo (played without the slightest trace of English accent by Matthew Goode, who portrays Charles Ryder in the new "Brideshead Revisited"), who throws a failed dancer named Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher, Wedding Crashers) at Scott. Quite apart from not covering himself up in any way to go to the refrigerator while Scott and Luvlee are talking on the sofa, Gary is very obviously -- to the audience -- Bad News. The part of Scott's brain that should ring warning bells has been neutralized.
Even without meeting Gary, Lewis suspects him and the sudden sexual successes of his room-mate. Gary plans to rob the bank while Scott is cleaning it some night.
As in all heist movies, there is elaborate planning, but something goes wrong. Actually "Deputy Donut," the very small-town, friendly night patrolman Ted (Sergio Di Zio) worries the planners, because he stops by every night at different times with donuts.
The first three-quarters of the movie, in which Scott's plight and frustrations are laid out is not fast-paced. The wheels in Scott's head turn painfully slowly, but he does retain some ideas that he has been told to write down: to make a story figure out the ending you want and work backwards and the one who has the money has the power. How Scott uses what he has learned is for me the best part of the movie, though I only care because Gordon-Levitt and Daniels have made Scott and Lewis characters about whom I care.
The ambivalent femme fatale of this neo-noir, Luvlee, has an interesting confrontation by Lewis. Fisher is arguably underutilized in the movie, but leaves an impression (and more than one kind of scent picked up by Lewis's keen nose).
Scott Frank (who wrote the black comedy "Get Shorty" plus the scripts for neo-noirs "Minority Report," "The Interpreter," and "Dead Again") directed his own script. It is a very character-driven one with Gordon-Levitt, Daniels, and Goode delivering superb performances of the main characters and the smaller parts also very well realized (only Greg Dunham's Bone seems single-note).
The action part of the movie is cleverly written and well played, especially by Gordon-Levitt, Daniels, and Di Zio. And the musical score by James Newton Howard (who also scored "Michael Clayton" and "The Interpreter" and "Primal Fear") well serves the enterprise and its shifting moods. Also, the sound editing other than the music is exceptionally good.
The making of features were quite good with what Gordon-Levitt and Daniels had to say about playing their handicapped roles particularly interesting.
I think I have already praised Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an actor, not least in suggesting his performance here was better than the Oscar-winning one of Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood." (I also think that Frank's script is better than Paul Thomas Anderson's Oscar-nominated one for "Blood.") He and Daniels intensely studied people with the maladies affecting their characters and crafted performances that totally convinced me (without the "Watch me, I'm acting!" subtext of, for instance, William Hurt in his Oscar-rewarded turn in "The Kiss of the Spider Woman"--more like Daniel Day-Lewis in his first Oscar-winning role (in "My Left Foot").)
(BTW in Oscar second-guessing, I still think that Viggo Mortensen should have won the best actor award for "Eastern Promises." If not Mortensen, then from among the nominees Tommy Lee Jones for "In the Valley of Elah." I'd also note that Jones and Christian Bale also turned in outstanding performances in "No Country for Old Men" and "3:10 to Yuma," respectively. I haven't seen the movie "Sweeney Todd," but am willing to believe that Johnny Depp earned his nomination. I'd scratch George Clooney's "Michael Clayton," though Clooney is better than Tilda Swinton who won an Oscar in that movie. Writing for men being what it is, the competition for actress awards was far less intense--though Julie Christie and Laura Linney at least were serious contenders for the best actress award that went to Marion Cotillard's impersonation of Edith Piaf.)
© 2008, Stephen O. Murray
BTW, as in "Capote," the Kansas of "The Lookout" is Manitoba. Does anything get shot on location in Kansas? Certainly not "The Wizard of Oz"! Nor was any of "Mysterious Skin" shot there. Does shooting in Manitoba make this Canadiana? (I'll let Elvisdo judge that!)
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