Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Lookout" for Mr. Gordon-Levitt


written and directed by Scott Frank
starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, others

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is hot right now, and I don’t mean in the he’s so sexy! sense. No, most of the attention he’s drawing is from the critics and the indie-film crowd, who have been taking notice ever since his buzz-generating turns in film festival darlings like “Mysterious Skin” and “Brick.” At 26, he’s come a long way since his kiddie days on “3rd Rock from the Sun,” and his latest role in “The Lookout” confirms his status as an actor to be reckoned with. Whether he can translate critical plaudits into commercial success still remains to be seen, though it’s doubtful he’ll ever go the matinee idol route. He’s a little too withdrawn and, to be honest, a little too intelligent to be a conventional heartthrob, though some have him pegged as the next Johnny Depp.

Be that as it may, “The Lookout” leaves no doubt that young Gordon-Levitt is the real deal. In itself, the film is competent and smartly crafted without being brilliant, structured as a fairly conventional heist flick but layered over with a deep-cutting psychological portrait of an angry and damaged young man. Set against the bleak winter landscapes of Kansas City, the story, scripted by veteran screenwriter but first-time director Scott Frank, is simple enough in its rough outlines. JGL stars as Chris Pratt, a high school hero whose charmed existence comes to a crashing halt when a night of joy-riding with friends leads to a horrific accident that leaves him with a serious brain injury. Though he looks outwardly normal—apart from a slight limp and some ugly scarring on his body—he’s mentally crippled. He has trouble sequencing, i.e., putting his thoughts and memories in the proper order, and is prone to involuntary fits of tears and unprovoked, wildly inappropriate remarks, usually of a sexual nature. In his new life, he takes classes in basic life skills, works nights as a janitor in a bank, and shares an apartment with a fellow handicappee, a blind man named Lewis (Jeff Daniels) whose hilariously tart tongue doesn’t disguise his genuine affection and concern for Chris.

Chris pines for his golden-boy past, even as he struggles to get through the simple day-to-day challenges of his present. This leaves him easy prey to the machinations of Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), a guy who the audience knows is trouble as soon as he shows up, despite—or perhaps because of—his surface charm. Gary approaches Chris in a bar, tells him they went to high school together, and introduces him to a bodacious redhead (Isla Fisher) who calls herself—I kid you not—Luvlee Lemons. Seduced by Luvlee’s sexual attentions and Gary’s smooth talk, Chris finds himself ensnared in the latter’s plot to rob the very bank where he works.

The complications that ensue when the heist doesn’t go quite as planned are predictable enough; what isn’t predictable is the characters’ reactions to them. It’s no surprise that “The Lookout” derives most of its power from the performances of its cast. The excellent Daniels is a quiet riot with his one-line zingers, but he’s also unexpectedly moving in the moments where he steps in as Chris’s self-appointed guardian—sometimes against Chris’s own family, who, swathed in a mantle of privilege, fail to understand the root of his problems. In the opposite corner, Goode is, well, damn good as the plotter who plays on Chris’s basic desires and deepest sense of loss. Fisher (best known as Vince Vaughn’s crazy love interest in “The Wedding Crashers” and as the real-life fiancée of Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Borat) may initially come across as a bit too cute to be a convincing femme fatale, yet ultimately it’s her very cuteness, even a certain motherliness about her, that makes her appeal to Chris believable.

In the end, though, it’s JGL who makes the movie. I haven’t seen “Mysterious Skin,” but I’m willing to wager that his performance in “The Lookout” is his best yet. He effectively conveys both Chris’s mental struggle to catch up with those around him and his deep-lying frustration at the seeming futility and waste of it all, as well as the guilt that haunts him for the life-derailing accident that was completely his fault. But at his core, he’s also just a forlornly lost little boy trying to grow up, yearning for that which he threw away even as he knows he can never get it back. It’s his gradual acceptance of this truth, and his attempts to piece together an alternative, that throw off the villains’ best-laid plans—and that make “The Lookout” compelling viewing.



Blogger Freudian Slip said...

Interesting review. Just might have to check this one out! Thanks.

8:53 PM  

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