Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 12 March 2007
Source Miramax Films 35mm print
The Lookout expends its first two thirds on establishing a familiarly populated scenario in genre crime. There is a stunning femme fatale, the moll to a vicious and totally charismatic crime organizer, and a sidekick expressly intent on supplying comedy even in the face of violence that may leave him dead. Each of these is connected to Chris Pratt, a laurelled high-school hockey star whose memory is impaired after a tragic car accident. Every day is a routine almost identical to the last, outlined by a crude agenda he keeps in a notepad in his back pocket—it is a perpetually predetermined record of his life. The routine has imperfections, but he becomes conditioned to them: each time he returns to his car, he finds he has locked the keys in the ignition. His frustration is immediate, just before he procures the spare in one of his shoes.
Chris wakes up each morning at the same time, bathes, and dresses himself, the routine outlined each time by plastic labels that display the contents of each drawer in his dresser. On some evenings, he works as a janitor at a local bank; he is the only person present during some of its most vulnerable hours. At a bar one evening, he is recognized by some former classmates, each of whom reports their commendation for his days on the high school hockey team. Chris is quick to associate with them (he conspicuously asks the girl that is flirting with him her name several times). He will later discover that these people are more familiar with his routine than he.
Chris’ utility in crime is his reliable unreliability. He is easy to recruit, easy to manipulate, and easy to discredit, that is if he will even remember the particulars of his participation. But there are nuances that can project the trajectory of his days into directions unexpected; this is to say his inclusion in any dishonorable equation for profit is a potentially, if not certainly, caustic element.
The Lookout is patient in establishing Chris’ disability; it’s roughly the principle element of every scene. He forgets where the can opener is kept in his kitchen, and thrashes the room in a sudden bout of frustration. Invited by his new friends to a late Thanksgiving gathering, he falls asleep abruptly (another of his myriad of symptoms), and awakens to an empty room. Once he becomes involved in the carefully thought out mechanics of a bank robbery, the viewer is at this point so well informed of Chris’ disability that it creates suspense for how, precisely, he will trip the mechanism.
It is at this point where Scott Frank’s screenplay becomes hackneyed, resorting to genre mainstays and employing not the taught dialogical velocity that distinguishes his prior screenwriting work. His strength, here and elsewhere, is how meticulously he builds a Rube Goldberg machine of ordinary plot devices but in an order in which the result would be extraordinary. But instead of letting it run its course, it is as if he trashes the entire mechanism altogether, resulting in a spoonfed conclusion, rewarding facile expectations and violating the integrity of his film’s comparably well-established structure.