April 5, 2007

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The Lookout (R)
A brain-damaged former athlete toys with the idea of stealing the life he lost in The Lookout, a sly, quirky bank heist movie.

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a star in his small Kansas town, winning hockey games and dating one of the prettiest girls. One night, as they and another couple drive through a field full of lightning bugs, Chris turns off his headlights to show her the planetarium-like quality of all those glittery insects. He turns the headlights back on to get a glimpse of the horrific crash that kills two of the carís passengers and seriously injures Chris and his girlfriend.

Flash forward and Chris is no longer a golden boy. Now he lives in an apartment full of stickers reminding him to turn off the light or take his keys and carries a notebook full of information that he has to write down if he wants to remember. Chris spends his days at an occupational therapy center and his nights as the janitor at a bank in a small town. He is treated with kindness but pity by many of his acquaintances and by his well-to-do family that seems equal parts ashamed and sad. His only true friend is his blind roommate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels).

And then he meets Gary (Matthew Goode). Gary claims a brief high school romance with Chrisí sister and strikes up barroom friendship with Chris, introducing him to Luvlee (Isla Fisher), a former exotic dancer who takes a liking to Chris. Flush with his first non-disability-centered friendship and with Luvleeís eagerness to sleep with him, Chris doesnít quite see the groupís opportunistic side (though Lewis does and tries to shoo Luvlee away). Turns out Gary didnít just bump into Chris ó he noticed him while he was casing the bank where Chris works. Gary and his highly unsavory group of ďfriendsĒ see in Chris a man who can be manipulated to help them carry out their crime and one who might be willing to be manipulated if it can restore some sense of the independence he lost.

Chris wants his life back but is drowning in guilt, so much so that he cries for no reason and constantly revisits the site of his crash. Though he can move and walk, he is psychologically paralyzed ó stuck in the horrible moment of the accident and unable to take on new information. Does he go along with Gary because he wants to take control of his lifeís course or because he wants to be caught and punished further for his accident? Does he let himself get pulled in by Luvlee because he believes she loves him or because he can never have back the girl he loved and then maimed? Guilt plays tricks on Chrisí mind just as confusing as his injuries do.

Gordon-Levitt, best known for playing the alien in a kidís body on 3rd Rock from the Sun, does a fantastic job with this messed-up character. He gives subtlety to the more dramatic aspects of Chrisí disabilities and accentuates some of Chrisí below-the-surface personality traits (the guilt, the longing). His relationship with Jeff Danielsí character is particularly well done. Daniels is friend but also father, partner in hardship but also someone traveled enough to try to steer Chris away from Gary and company. Daniels might have a long, painful track record of hacky, silly roles but one day a part like this could help him stumble into an Oscar.

The Lookout is a surprising kind of crime story ó quiet, emotional and darkly humorous. Itís a little film in the best sense, one that slowly draws you in with its story and well-constructed characters and then wonít let you look away. B+

Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content. Written and directed by Scott Frank, The Lookout is an hour and 42 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Miramax Films.