Home > Reviews > THE LOOKOUT – James Newton Howard

THE LOOKOUT – James Newton Howard

Original Review by Clark Douglas

I’m always pleased when a talented new director hits the Hollywood scene, and I’d like to welcome Scott Frank to the club of “people whose movies I will pay to see even if I don’t have to.” Frank has been writing quality screenplays for years, his credits include “Get Shorty”, “Dead Again”, “Out of Sight”, and “Minority Report”. He has moved into the next phase of his career with “The Lookout”, trying his hand at directing for the first time. He demonstrates considerable skills in this area, creating a very compelling cinematic atmosphere. The film is of the crime genre, something Frank is quite familiar with, and at first it may seems as if we’re about to view a re-hash of a dozen other crime movies, among them such titles as “Out of Sight” and “Memento”. Before long, we realize that we are actually seeing an original creation, not a mere rehash of Frank’s other movies, or anyone else’s for that matter.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Chris Pratt, a young man suffering from brain damage. He was in a car accident a few years earlier, and it turned his brain into a feverish machine of mental malfunctions. Still, he had it lucky… two other friends in the car were killed, another lost her leg. He’s getting better with time, though he has to get through each day much like Guy Pearce in “Memento”, writing down what he has learned and what he is supposed to do. He’s got a job cleaning a bank at night, though he has ambitions of becoming a teller someday.

Chris has wealthy parents, but he prefers not to rely on them for money. Instead, he barely gets by in a small apartment he shares with a smarmy blind guy named Lewis (Jeff Daniels). They’re an odd pair, but they manage to pool their available resources together to help each other out. Neither is particularly successful at getting a date, so Lewis is naturally shocked when a pretty girl in a bar (Isla Fisher) jumps all over Chris one night. The girl tells Chris that she watched him play hockey in high school, and that she feels so lucky to score a hot dude like him. Chris is gullible enough to go for this, what guy wouldn’t want to believe that?

Unfortunately, she is merely a decoy, a way to get Chris closer to a guy named Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode). Spargo is a planning a bank robbery… and it just so happens to be at the bank where Chris works. He says he wants Chris to give him a hand, offering the alluring bait of financial freedom. Chris reluctantly agrees, and the story begins a fascinating spiral into the world of robbery. The suspense comes from a different angle, with a lot more relying on the shaky memory of Chris than on contrived plot developments.

The movie has a nice ending, and strong plot, but the thing that puts the film at “above-average” level is the atmosphere. Frank admirably plays down attempts to make the movie “the latest version of cool”, instead allowing sobering maturity to seep into each scene. There’s a heartbreaking air of sadness that hangs over the whole entire movie, a sense of regret and loss that elevates “The Lookout” immeasurably. A big part of this comes from the acting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who allows us to feel his embittered loneliness, his desperation to believe in something that’s obviously too good to be true. Gordon-Levitt is an actor I have great admiration for, a guy who has overcome the obstacles of being a child star on “Third Rock from the Sun”. He has specifically avoided the mainstream crap he has been offered over the years, choosing to play more rewarding roles in films like “Mysterious Skin” and “Brick”. I sincerely hope that “The Lookout” will expose his talent to a larger audience… this was his chance to shine in the spotlight, and shine brightly he does.

He is given a lot of help from a terrific supporting cast. Jeff Daniels manages to be remarkably sympathetic without ever tugging at our heart strings. Part of the film’s humor comes from the way people behave around him. “Please don’t tell me you’re waving your hand in front of my face,” he snaps at a curious character. Matthew Goode, who was excellent as a British tennis player in “Match Point”, puts on a solid American accent to play a very charming bad guy. Finally, Isla Fisher does a good job with a more dramatic character after winning positive reviews for playing a ditz in “The Wedding Crashers”.

One of the film’s few disappointing areas is the score, which is provided by James Newton Howard. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… Howard is one of the most inconsistent composers in the business. When working on a Disney film or a Shyamalan movie, he is always great, but the rest of the time, you’re taking your chances. His work on “The Lookout” is a close cousin to last year’s score for “Freedomland”, concentrating on providing a suspenseful atmosphere. The score is primarily rooted in guitar strummings and fairly mundane drum loops, though he does stir up some interest from time to time. His rock instrumental end credits piece is an enjoyable listen, and there’s brief string statement towards the end that really resonates, albeit rather briefly. The score is available from iTunes, but take a listen to the sound clips before you decide to purchase it… this isn’t one of Howard’s more interesting efforts, though it works just fine in the film. Score fans may come away disappointed in this area, but everything else is top drawer. It’s been a pretty dry year so far at the movies, and “The Lookout” provides a much-needed dose of intelligent entertainment. It is sharp, sports excellent dialogue, is well-acted, humorous, and thoroughly compelling from start to finish.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • I Wake Up (2:20)
  • The Night Janitor (2:30)
  • Harvest Money (1:17)
  • Fantasy (1:04)
  • Casing the Bank (1:08)
  • Money is Power (1:26)
  • Luvlee, Bone and Gary (1:50)
  • Second Thoughts (1:01)
  • Heist I (4:33)
  • Heist II (5:47)
  • Lewis Taken Hostage (2:32)
  • Start at the End (2:17)
  • Imagining Kelly (1:18)
  • Chris Saves Lewis (4:26)
  • To Be Forgiven (2:50)

Running Time: 36 minutes 19 seconds

Hollywood Records (2007)

Music composed by James Newton Howard. Conducted by Chris P. Bacon. Orchestrations by Chris P. Bacon and Brad Dechter. Additional music by Clay Duncan and Stuart Michael Thomas. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Thomas S. Drescher. Score produced by James Newton Howard.

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