"Whoever has the money has the power."
Understandably, from John Huston's 'Asphalt Jungle' to Quentin Tatantino's Reservoir Dogs, the heist movie has long been a staple of the movie industry. With its archetypical tough talking characters, questionable morals and inevitable plot twists, it's perfect material for an engaging movie. The trouble with any movie type that relies heavily on archetypes, is that it can very easily become stale, so it's welcome to see screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Minority Report) add some new twists to his directorial debut, heist movie "The Lookout".
After causing a horrific car accident in which 2 of his friends died and suffering from a life changing head injury that causes him memory problems, one-time star athlete Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) struggles to come to terms with his new life. Fully aware of the consequences of his actions and with bitter memories of how his life used to be, Chris is a fascinating character longing for both forgiveness from the other survivor of the crash and for independence he knows he can never have. Unsatisfied with job as a janitor, his parents lack of faith in him and his single life living with his blind flat-mate (a self effacing Jeff Daniels), Chris's life take an unexpected turn when his sisters old boyfriend, Gary (Matthew Goode) takes him under his wing and sets him up with ex pole dancer Luvlee (Isla Fisher). But as it quickly becomes apparent, Gary is not whom he seems, but is manipulating the vulnerable Chris who is the key to his plan to stage a bank robbery.
The film is well written, very well shot and features another strong performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who on the back of Mysterious Skin, Brick and Stop Loss, has emerged from sit-com '3rd Rock from the Sun' displaying an ability to not only consistently turn out top rated performances but to select fascinating, but difficult 'indie' material. Chris's frustration with his inadequacies is so palpable and his attempts to act 'normal' truly so disheartening, that you can't help but feel for him even when he does things he knows to be wrong to people he's grown to care about. Apart from the one note (but not bad notes) performances from Isla Fisher and Greg Dunham, all the characters are well rounded out by the other actors. However it is the pace of The Lookout that ultimately lets it down. Although only 99 minutes long The Lookout seems to drag in places, never really capitalising on the potential tension and suspense of the scenario. The resolution is a little too neat for what up until that point had been a nice gritty heist movie and in the end it never feels like the film lives up to the sum of its parts.
With its cold, calculating characters and Chris's mental inabilities, it's hard not to draw comparisons with "Memento", but had The Lookout been made before Christopher Nolanís masterpiece, I think Scott Frank would have made far more his film. Chris's need to 'Start at the end' and work his way back would have easily lent itself to some non-sequential storytelling, allowing the audience to feel some of Chris's frustrations and confusion, racketing up the tension and making the outcome far more engaging. Instead, Scott Frank is forced to work hard to avoid being labelled as a 'Memento' rip off (it's not), missing out on some ripe opportunities for this unique scenario.
Despite these quibbles, The Lookout remains a strong, unique 'indie' heist movie with a nice twist on the usual conventions. It might not sit up there with classic heist movies such as "The Taking of Pelham 123" or "The Usual Suspects", but sits comfortable above recent pedestrian big budget efforts such as the bloated, over-indulgent Oceans trilogy or the bland Italian job remake. It's a well crafted little thriller, with a solid script and another excellent lead performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.