In the course of the "making-of" featurette about The Lookout (2007), star Joseph Gordon-Levitt says, "Any time you read a good script it's shocking and glorious." The same can be said about watching an excellent film by a first-time director. Scott Frank's background has heretofore mainly been that of a well-respected script doctor, and as solo (or nearly so) writer of Minority Report (2002), Out of Sight (1998), Get Shorty (1995), Little Man Tate (1991), and Dead Again (1991). Somewhere along the way he also wrote the The Lookout, and after a number of stalled greenlights he decided to direct it himself. He did one hell of a job. Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin, Brick) plays Chris Pratt, once the hockey-star golden boy of his small Kansas town, now the brain-damaged survivor of a car accident that killed two of his closest friends. The injury has left him with such a severely short-term memory that he carries a small notebook in order to scribble down reminders about going to work and taking his medications; he carries a spare key in his shoe because he always locks himself out of his car. But mainly he carries a load of guilt about the accident that made him this way, which was entirely his fault. His support system consists of a live-in helper, Lewis (Jeff Daniels), a caring case worker (Carla Gugino, who regrettably has just one scene), and a couple of town locals who keep an eye on him as he works as night janitor in the town bank. A confluence of details Chris' cognitive difficulties, the relative lack of security at the bank, and the laid-back town cop (Sergio de Zio) conspire to make the bank ripe for robbery, and a greasy charmer named Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) befriends Chris in order to use him as part of the heist.
Scott Frank worked closely with author Elmore Leonard to develop the screenplays for Get Shorty and Out of Sight, and when the latter was turned into the short-lived TV show "Karen Sisco" (which starred Gugino), Frank was brought in as head writer. He learned a lot at the master's knee, and there's a lot of Leonard's style in The Lookout, not the least in the well-crafted supporting characters. As the villain of the piece, Spargo is the devil incarnate first he charms Chris with flattery, then he introduces him to a gorgeous former stripper named Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher), and he finally seals the deal in a wickedly written monologue in which he verbalizes every fear and insecurity that haunts Chris with canny, seductive intuition. By the time he's done, it's not only understandable why Chris would go along with the bank robbery, it sounds like it's his best option until an unexpected moment of respect from Chris' boss snaps him back to reality, but by then he's in too deep. As Lewis, a blind, gregarious ex-hippie Jeff Daniels is as much mentor to Chris as he is hired companion, and he includes Chris in his dream to open a restaurant called "Lew's Your Lunch." Lewis reveals to Luvlee that he's more than just a disabled teddy bear when he tells her that he lost his sight working in an unventilated meth lab then, after casually asking the girl about Spargo, she says, "Do you know Gary?" and Lewis replies, "Oh, I've known a lot of Garys. A lot of Luvlees, too." Frank's screenplay is (as should be expected from a writer with his reputation) exquisitely crafted, and every twist of the plot and notable detail along the way comes together in the story's final act. It's a remarkably assured film for a first directorial effort, with beautiful, carefully considered images and an understanding that character development is what compels a viewer to throw in with a film emotionally. The whole thing's anchored by a nuanced, compelling performance by Gordon-Levitt, who once again proves what an amazing, under-appreciated actor he is. It's the sort of small, tightly wound thriller that was once the bread and butter of Hollywood studios, and which we rarely see anymore. In fact, Frank's next film had better be awfully good he's already set the bar pretty high for himself.
Buena Vista/Miramax's DVD release of The Lookout offers a beautiful anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) at least some (perhaps all) of the movie was shot using the new Panavision Super 35 Digital camera, and it's virtually indistinguishable from film stock. The difference however, is that Frank and DP Alar Kivilo were able to use existing light in even the night scenes, yet it's never murky or indistinct. The DD 5.1 audio is fine, given that there's not much need for fancy sound tricks here. Extras include a commentary track with Frank and Kivilo that's heavy on production specifics, plus the featurettes "Behind the Mind of Chris Pratt," which looks at Gordon-Levitt's take on the character (9 min.), and "Sequencing The Lookout," a pretty detailed "making-of" piece that covers everything from creation of the script and getting financing to casting and production (20 min.). Keep-case.