|Written by Darren Gross|
|Friday, 01 February 2008|
Chris has been, fittingly, paired with the blind Lewis (Jeff Daniels) by his rehabilitation center and the two solidly support each other in their daily travails. But Chris’ daily frustrations are beginning to weigh down on him and his job as night-shift janitor at the local bank is starting to make him crave something more ambitious, in the hopes of pushing beyond the narrow world he has found himself in. One evening after work, Chris has a “chance” encounter in a local bar with Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) who is unknown to Chris, but went to the same high school as him. Gary introduces Chris to the charming Luvlee (Isla Fisher) who seems to immediately take to him. Unfortunately, Chris is being set up to assist Gary and his small gang of cronies in robbing the bank where Chris works. Initially shocked and scared by the revelation of Gary’s plan, Chris eventually decides to take part, after Gary preys on Chris’s feelings of disempowerment and convinces him this is something he can solve with his share of the money. On the night the robbery is to commence, Chris comes to his senses and tells Gary and the gang to drop the plan, but unfortunately, it has gone too far and the group makes Chris the unwilling and highly visible holdup man at gunpoint. When complications ruin the gang’s chances of a quiet getaway, circumstances put both Chris and the innocent Lewis in danger from both Gary and the intimidating Bone (Greg Dunham).
Screenwriter Scott Frank’s directorial debut (having previously turned in the fine screen adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight”) is an accomplished first film that’s as cinematic as it is literate. From its first few scenes, you know you’re in skilled hands and there’s a tightness, efficiency and confidence on display in the pacing and storytelling; all feels of a piece and the parts enhance the whole.
Heist films are a dime a dozen, but Frank makes “The Lookout” seem fresh by conveying a commitment to his characters, making their actions seem natural or relatable, instead of as schematic functions or cogs in the wheel of a particular plot device. He seems to sincerely care about Chris, Lewis and the other characters in his world, and as a result we’re deeply invested in Chris’ actions and how they turn out. In caper films, the plot or the characters’ scheme is important, but essentially it’s a gimmick, so making a heist film without focusing too heavily on the omnipresent ticking clock of crime-plot beats is a rarity.
Director Scott Frank is helped by a solid cast with a terrific Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Chris Pratt. It’s an authentic portrayal of a haunted, tormented figure who, thanks to his brain injury, can’t properly express his feelings or move beyond them. Refreshingly, his symptoms are not fixable and the frustrations he expresses are real, identifiable on a thematic level and thought provoking. Jeff Daniels is also terrific, believably blind without overplaying it and he has some brilliantly funny dry line readings that convey Lewis’ wit and charm.
The cinematography by Alar Kivilo is a study in contrasts— it’s predominantly a dark and moody-looking film, taking place at night or in dimly lit rooms and ends up in a stark white wasteland of snowswept plains. It’s a fitting look for the film as the somewhat grungy-looking visuals never make the film appear too slick or lavish.
“The Lookout” was shot with Panavision’s highly-regarded Genesis high-definition camera and then transferred to film. While director Scott Frank and cinematographer Alar Kivilo discuss in the commentary how impressive the footage they shot looked, the transfer to film of this very dark imagery appears to have introduced a level of omnipresent grain into the visuals. As a result, the Blu-ray disc is lacking in the fine detail and clarity one would expect from a high-definition original, but undoubtedly the film prints looked even smudgier. The added grain obscures the fine, pin-sharp details one expects in high-definition media. There’s an increase in detail in brighter scenes and snowy exteriors. The prevalent blacks featured in the color scheme are dark, rich and enveloping. What sets the disc apart visually from a standard definition DVD is the image stability. The grain would prove problematic for DVD compressors, since grain is just more data that would need to be encoded in the disc. The fact that we can see the film grain attests to the solid authoring job done on the film and the format’s ability to show the film for what it is, instead of digitally scrubbing the grain away with a dirt removal program, which would just make the film softer, not clearer.
The uncompressed PCM track richly presents the well-recorded dialogue and the detailed work that was put into the sound effects editing and mix. The sound design is artfully done and takes full advantage of the surround potential of the material. Dialogue is warm and realistic and is always crisp and intelligible (which you would expect from a film where the director is the screenwriter). The bass has distinctive weight and impact and it’s used actively in the mix which takes full advantage of the dynamic range throughout.
The two featurettes total around 30 minutes. “Behind the Mind of Chris Pratt” offers insight into the nature of the real-life brain trauma that Chris Pratt suffers from and Gordon-Levitt discusses his research for the role and the people he met that inspired his performance. “Sequencing the Lookout” hits all the necessary notes and showcases each of the main players. It’s short and sweet. The commentary with Scott Frank and Alar Kivilo is a good one. Frank’s observations on the challenges of directing his first film and his self effacing humor are refreshing. He and Kivilo clearly worked well together as a team and the track is insightful without ever devolving into dull tech chat. It’s worthwhile, especially for film students.