The Lookout

This time there is a “the”. Except the title is meant to refer to main character Chris Pratt, and he never actually is a lookout. More a hapless distraction.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (from Third Rock from the Sun, now attempting to leap the gaping chasm between child actor and actor actor — he’s 26, but he looks young) plays Chris, once a high-school hockey star from a wealthy family. But wealth and popularity couldn’t save him from a horrible accident, though a little common sense would have. He takes his girlfriend and another couple out driving in his convertible, along a country highway at night, to show them the fireflies. Of course, since fireflies are pretty pale, he had to turn the car’s headlights off so everyone could see them. So we’ve got a country highway, dark, fast-moving convertible, no headlights. Now, I like watching fireflies — I spent many hours doing that as a child — but I never imagined anyone liked looking at them that much.
Two of the car’s occupants die. Four years later, Chris is left with crushing survivor guilt, several large scars, and a brain that no longer quite functions as it should. He falls asleep without warning, cries without reason, and throws fits without much provocation. Oh, and he has to write down everything in his little notebook. I mean everything. A typical entry: “I take a shower, with soap.” Because he would, literally, forget to shower if he didn’t see the note. He isn’t as badly off as the guy from Memento — he recalls his name and can drive himself to work, but he’s much worse than me, and my bad memory is nearly legendary. I’m not sure it’s such a good idea for him to be driving, since he still seems to have some trouble remembering that cars come with headlights, but that’s the state of Missouri’s problem.
He goes to classes to try and improve his cognitive functions, and holds a job cleaning at a rural bank in a faded farm town. His roommate is Jeff Daniels (who plays Lewis, no last name; as one character points out, he kind of looks like Larry Flynt, minus the wheelchair), who was blinded years ago because of his own foolish teenage escapades, and now dispenses fatherly advice to Chris and tries to deal with his tantrums, since Chris’ own family seems to prefer to pretend that nothing’s happened. Every day is very much like the next for Chris, but that’s what happens when you live by the list.

Chris meets the smooth-talking Gary.

But you know one day has to end up different, or this wouldn’t be a movie, at least not a big-budget one. Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode, but don’t let the name fool you) insinuates himself into Chris’ life, offering a friendly ear and some very convincing sympathy that never turns into the pity that Chris hates. The food, alcohol, and pretty girls don’t hurt, either. Chris gets very friendly with ex-exotic dancer (Isla Fisher) Luvlee Lemons. That’s not a typo, that’s her stage name. Why she’s still using her stage name, I can’t even guess. Granted, she’s about as sharp as a bowling ball, but still. Could her real name possibly be worse?
Gary, of course, is up to no good. He knows that the fall harvest money will soon be coming through for the farmers, and he also knows that rural banks are frequently light on security. He also knows all the right buttons to push to get Chris to listen, since he had the foresight to follow him for some time. Before Chris quite knows what’s happening, he’s agreed to help Gary and his scary friends with their robbery plans.
And they are scary. One looks like he used to pull the wings off flies as a boy, and tends to look at Chris as though he were some sort of bug. One, who everyone calls Bone, looks like he skipped tormenting insects and went straight to humans because they scream. He barely speaks, preferring to stand menacingly in the background, wearing all black and dark sunglasses. He looks kind of like Keith Richards, only more so.
Now, I went into this movie expecting more thriller, but the bank robbery stuff doesn’t really get going until the second half. But don’t get me wrong, I liked that. It was a great character study and exploration of what brain damage can do to a person, and I thought Joseph did an excellent job. There’s a scene where he tries to persuade the bank manager to let him work as a teller instead of just a cleaner that made me tear up — it seemed so real, and it was heartbreaking to think that such a simple dream looked so impossible.
It was also a convincing portrayal of how Chris (or anyone) could be pulled in to something like that. Gary is a serious manipulator, probably without any conscience, and much more frightening than Bone could ever be in how he can use people’s weaknesses against them — and Chris’ weaknesses are worse than most. In his desperation to get his old life back, he grasped at any lifeline, and this one turned out to be illegal.
This one gets four and a quarter idols. It has a couple of weak points in the script — the fate of Luvlee, for instance, is weak, which is a shame since the actress did such a good job with the part. The acting was uniformly very good, from the kind yet tactless police deputy who feels obligated to look after Chris, all the way to the case worker assigned to him, even though she was apparently only there for some hot chocolate and some exposition. But overall, the story holds your attention and has some very good, subtle touches — pay attention for some tantalizing hints of what Chris was really like before the accident. And please, please drive safely to and from the theatre. All these car accident movies are making me jumpy…