THE LOOKOUT is another showcase in the burgeoning career of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of the best actors working today. It may be a low key noir in which he is working, but his performance as Chris Pratt, a brain-damaged former golden boy, is nothing less than riveting. The evolution of his character surpasses the seeming limitations of that condition. He is the patsy in a bank job, going from the quiet desperation of enforced dependence, to the subsumed rage of longing for a liberation that he, and the audience, knows is ultimately unattainable. The film is a tightly plotted, sharply realized mood piece, but it’s Gordon-Levitt’s performance that raises it from very good to great.
The DVD extras include a commentary track. It begins disarmingly with writer/director Scott Frank welcoming the viewer to “another episode of rookie director screws up.” That’s disingenuous. The film is first-rate, even knowing the regrets with which Frank is, well, frank. This is director’s commentary as confessional. Cuts called too soon, lessons learned on the fly, and using the Occam’s Razor approach to getting the right angle on a scene. There is no getting around the admiration for the continuity person when Frank enumerates the several different locations used in any one scene. He also clears up what the meaning of that neon cross shining through Chris Pratt’s apartment window (there is none, it’s was just part of the location in Winnipeg).
Because Frank is joined by his director of photography, Alar Kivilo, it’s also director’s commentary as film school lesson in how to record the shots, and a glowing tribute to the digital camera used. This is a thriller-as-noir and the rules of getting the shadowy mood down are insightful, and, dare I say it, illuminating. The perils of shooting in actual apartments without the use of scaffolding outside, impeding an actor in order to get the right lighting effect, and the serendipity of Canadian skies. There’s also some good-natured ribbing over spending inordinate amounts of time lighting a nude scene as well as a furnace grate. There’s all sorts of dedication at work here.
The genesis of the script and how it got made is covered in another bonus feature, “Sequencing THE LOOKOUT”, including the fact that it had been floating around for 10 years. There are behind-the scenes moments, including sudden shyness on the part of actors working with a passel of extras, and more of Frank’s worries about measuring up as a first-timer. Character development as well as casting, against type in the case of Matthew Goode as the villain of the piece, come in for the usual puffery, but in the service of a solid film that actually delivers on the hype. “Inside the Mind of Chris Pratt” focuses on Gordon-Levitt’s approach to that role, and the homework he did for it.
THE LOOKOUT is a character study wrapped in the genre of the suspense thriller. It works as both, and with a poignancy that marks it as something very special. The same can be said for its fierce integrity in telling a story on its own terms without caving in to expectations.
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