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Baity tackles 3rd Heist from the Sun

by Glen Baity

There have been a few movies over the past several years that involve people with limited or non-existent short-term memories, and while it’s always noted that these conditions are very rare, you might not know it. Really, one would think you’d run into these people out on the street more often, considering their prominence in cult hits like Memento and commercial comedies like 50 First Dates.

Okay, so there aren’t that many characters out there whose memories reset every three minutes, but since it’s such a rare condition, I think we can agree that two films constitute a veritable canon.

Though his is a variation on that theme, Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is certainly in the same boat. A one-time hotshot hockey star in his hometown, he became a shell of his former self after a near-fatal car crash left him with massive head trauma. He remembers friends, family and simple tasks, but he struggles with sequencing, finding it nearly impossible to recall the order in which events happened. To help himself cope, he records every routine task – waking up, making breakfast, brushing his teeth – in his pocket notebook, in case he needs reminding that he did it.

The Lookout meets up with Chris four years after his accident. Now a night-shift janitor in a bank on the deserted main drag of Noel, Kansas, he spends his days in rehabilitation, his evenings downing O’Doul’s at the local watering hole and hanging out with his blind roommate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels). Though his routine gives him stability, he remains haunted by the accident, which claimed the lives of two friends and the left leg of the only other survivor.

Things change with the arrival of Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), a new friend who represents himself as an ex-boyfriend of Chris’ older sister. Chris begins hanging out with Gary and his crew, eventually learning that his new friends, including a very welcome love interest (Isla Fisher, formerly known as the loopy redhead from Wedding Crashers) are aspiring bank robbers. As luck would have it, they just happen to have an opening on their latest project.

The Lookout gives the appearance of an above-average, if by-the-numbers, heist flick, but there’s a lot more at work here. For starters, Gordon-Levitt gives a notably strong performance in the lead role. I hadn’t seen this actor in anything in years, and having never watched much “3rd Rock From the Sun,” I honestly didn’t know what I was in for with this film. Gordon-Levitt proves himself as a dramatic actor of unexpected strength, and the film gains a lot from his presence. The character’s condition, it turns out, is fairly nuanced in how it limits him, and Gordon-Levitt is adept at conveying those limits believably with the altered range of emotion available to him. Chris, once a typically indestructible teenager, has been brought low by cold reality, and this actor makes it easy to sympathize.

The film benefits as well from a strong script courtesy of Scott Frank, whose impressive resume as a screenwriter includes critically acclaimed entries like Get Shorty and Out of Sight. The Lookout doubles as his directorial debut, and if the film is any indication, it’s the start of a sure-to-be-celebrated phase of his career. Frank’s sense of dramatic pacing is second to none, as the film builds toward a hell of a climax and doesn’t disappoint with its payoff. Along the way, he plumbs the depths of his title character’s psyche, deepening The Lookout’s ultimate reward and raising the film above the level of a standard crime thriller.

Frank also culls excellent performances from the supporting cast. Daniels is winning as Lewis, Chris’ snarky conscience, and Goode sinks his teeth into a wicked turn as the film’s villain. Only Fisher seems to be working with a flimsy character here. While she plays it to the best of her ability, Frank writes her out of the script at the first convenient moment and she simply disappears, never to return. Ironically, the crew her character runs with seems to regard her as largely disposable; it’s surprising that her creator treats her the same way.

Aside from that noticeable flaw, the film does very little wrong. The Lookout is an unexpected treat, a heist film with wit – a requirement in the genre – that also looks into its hero’s soul. It’s also a great return to the spotlight for the “3rd Rock” kid, whose talents clearly deserve a much closer look.

Is Glen Baity’s sequencing all out of whack? Tell him so when you e-mail your comments to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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