Dir. Scott Frank
Premiered at SXSW March 9, 2007
In the spirit of this film, I’m going to break from the normal format today: to quote Jeff Daniels’ character, let’s start at the end and move back from there.
How Did It Do?
I had no idea The Lookout existed before beginning this project. The first time I attempted recapping 2007 in film on a private forum, I made only a passing note of it, to mention– quite dismissively– that its main character was named Chris Pratt; this being a time when the real Chris Pratt was only familiar to a small but appreciative audience as the sensitive jock from an also-ran teen drama called Everwood, and thus making this movie seem like a joke in retrospect.
Mind you, the movie did nothing in terms of business: it grossed $5.4 million against a $16 million budget, and despite having a very wide release was virtually unadvertised. However, it was a critical darling: Leonard Maltin called it the best movie of 2007 up to that point, and Richard Roeper put it in his year-end top ten on a show that I remember watching.
Critics begged people to see it before it disappeared into the dustbin of film history. The greatest tragedy about 2007 is that there were so many great movies that some were inevitably crowded out, robbed of the chance either to be celebrated in the moment or resurrected as cult classics. The Lookout is only the first example of that which I have covered so far.
Often when we think of great movies, we think of stuff that grabs you from the first scene and carries you off in a thrilling passion of image and sound. The Lookout instead tricks you into thinking it’s a smaller movie, then gradually turns up the heat until, at the very end, you realize your heart’s racing.
At the end of high school, Kansas hockey prodigy Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) causes a car accident that kills two of his friends and leaves him with permanent brain damage. Bereft of the ability to reason, Chris is absent-minded, impulsive, and naïve; four years on, he can only find work as the janitor at a rural bank, and is unable to socialize with anyone but his blind, sarcastic, and fiercely protective roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels).
But that changes very suddenly when Chris is approached by two of his former classmates: sleazy Gary (Matthew Goode) and fiery seductress Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher)– don’t laugh, it’s just her “stage name.”
Eventually, Gary tells Chris what’s really going on: the whole gang is planning to rob the bank where he works, using him as their lookout– or so they say, because Chris may be too addled to realize their true intentions with him, but the movie is not.
Before long, The Lookout has steadily built up into a gorgeous, character-driven triumph. Gordon-Levitt, who had broken out two years earlier with the starring role in Rian Johnson’s Brick, feels totally at home as a laid-back athlete whose natural charms are endlessly hampered by his injury; it’s a subtle performance, but a revelation to those already familiar with his usual screen persona. Jeff Daniels equally knocks it out of the park, imbuing Lewis with a wryness and warmth that Chris by his very nature can’t provide. Isla Fisher radiates a cozy sort of sexuality rarely seen in movies at all, and Matthew Goode is cast just about as perfectly as he ever could be.
Having long been a giant of screenwriting, The Lookout was Scott Frank’s first outing as a director, a job he has only returned to once for yet another eerie, underrated character-driven caper, 2014’s A Walk Among the Tombstones. If finding and watching this movie gets him back behind the camera, do yourself a favor and don’t let The Lookout stay forgotten.
Next Time: Knocked Up