Review: ‘The Lookout’ is unforgettable 

Although its surface qualities suggest just another heist flick with "Memento" on the brain, "The Lookout," in which a memory-damaged former golden boy must outthink the lethal bad guys who have taken advantage of his disability, is a nifty little thriller, and as a human drama, it’s even worthier. Suspense and character come together terrifically in the hands of first-time director Scott Frank.

Frank, also acting as screenwriter (his script credits include the adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s "Get Shorty"), presents a memorable protagonist in Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a former high-school hockey jock whose recklessness at the wheel killed two friends four years ago and left him mentally impaired and guilt-plagued.

Functional with financial assistance from his dad and moral and practical support from his blind roommate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels), Chris has trouble remembering sequences of events. He depends on instructions he writes in a notebook to complete daily routines. He yearns to have his old life back.

The crime element kicks in when Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), a charismatic hood, manipulates Chris into participating in a robbery of the bank where Chris works as a janitor. When the job turns deadly, Chris, who can hardly remember how to open a can of tomatoes, must come up with a strategy to save himself and Lewis.

The movie isn’t quite original or affecting enough to wow you or transcend the trappings of its genre setup. The third act has weaknesses, including a pat ending. But crank down a couple notches, and you’ve got an engrossing, entertaining mix of tension and humanity.

Recalling Carl Franklin’s "One False Move" in terms of stellar tautness and minimalism in the small-scale crime-drama arena, the film builds suspense efficiently. With its neo-noir tones and the mythic tinge Frank gives to his mundane Kansas setting, it’s also eye-pleasing.

It soars foremost, however, on the strength of its protagonist, a captivating presence thanks to Gordon-Levitt, whose bent for understatement (his credits include "Mysterious Skin") works splendidly here. As his seemingly blank-slate face registers, with zero falseness, Chris’ frustration with a well-meaning person’s pity, or the charge Chris gets when Gary and femme fatale Luvlee (lsla Fisher) appear to like him, Chris is riveting in his humanness. You can’t help but care about this guy.

Among the supporting cast, Daniels, perfect as the caustically wisecracking Lewis, and Goode, oozing sinister charm as Gary, are standouts.

The Lookout ***

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, lsla Fisher

Written and directed by Scott Frank

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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