A guy with brain damage, his blind roommate and a bank ripe for robbery. Doesn’t sound like much. But wait till you see the spellbinding work that Scott Frank makes of it. If you don’t know Frank, he’s the screenwriter who crafted two of the best-ever adaptations of Elmore Leonard novels, Out of Sight and Get Shorty. Now, in a knockout directing debut, Frank cooks up his own mischief. The web he spins will pull you in. Guaranteed.
The film begins with a car accident that leaves the driver, school jockey Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), with a brain as tangled as Guy Pearce’s in Memento. The simplest tasks throw him. Once the town golden boy, Chris is now working as a night janitor in a bank and living ith Lewis (Jeff Daniels), a blind man with a sharp wit that doesn’t allow for coddling. Daniels, near matching his triumph in The Squid and the Whale, is exceptional. And Gordon-Levitt, so good in Mysterious Skin and Brick, digs deep into a character who can’t even know himself. This is acting of the highest order, putting Gordon-Levitt, 26, up there with the best of his generation.
The plot thickens with the entrance of Gary (the excellent Matthew Goode), a former pal who puts Chris up close and personal with the wild wife and an ex-stripper, Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher, of Wedding Crashers, is hot hot hot). No fair spoiling the plot, except to say that Gary’s nterest in Chris’ bank isn’t the half of it. Frank keeps the humor lack, like diner coffee, and springs surprises that reveal character while hey spin your head around. The psychological underpinnings of the suspense benefit from cinematographer Alar Kivilo’s artful blend of light and shadow and from composer James Newton Howard’s moody, alluring score. But The Lookout is Frank’s show. He’s crafted a haunting and hypnotic film that transcends pulp by creating characters that et under your skin. Frank is a director to watch. More, please, and soon.