The Lookout is a bit like the proverbial glass of water: it can be seen as either half full or half empty. Without a strong turn from Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the starring role and a compelling first half, it could have been a lot worse. Unfortunately, had writer/director Scott Frank built on these strengths by making the other characters more three-dimensional and the second half more believable, it could have been much better.
Gordon-Levitt is Chris Pratt, a star high school football player whose dreams are shattered in a horrific car crash that opens the film. Picking up several years later, Chris retains few outward marks of disability, but he’s been left with permanent brain damage. Unsurprisingly, his prospects for the future are limited. He’s got a menial job at a local bank and a supportive friend and roommate (Jeff Daniels), but not much else. Thus, he’s easy prey for Gary (Matthew Goode), a local ne’er-do-well who’s plotting with some fellow crooks to rob the bank where Chris works. Chris is hesitant about the plot initially, but he agrees to play the film’s titular role after Gary persuades him that he’ll be handsomely rewarded for it and no one will get hurt. Pratt’s ultimate decision to go along with it feels pretty natural, considering.
As expected, things don’t go according to plan. Multiple people are indeed hurt during the robbery, leaving Chris with a terrible dilemma. Frank probably faced a similar situation while directing. He had all the ingredients in place for a good tragedy, but succumbed to Hollywood pressure to deliver a feel-good flick, with inferior results. Chris is a sympathetic character, but heartening though his triumph may be, it’s not at all realistic.
Frank tries to give the film an edge with the crooks, but the attempt flops. Goode is competent as Gary, but he’s not given enough to work with. Then again, at least Gary is more rounded than his henchman “Bone” (Greg Dunham), a virtual mute. Faintly menacing at first, his silence just seems stupid by the film’s end.
Despite his flat co-stars and some cheesy dialogue, Gordon-Levitt is always convincing. Chris’s inner scars–both the brain damage and his knowledge that he’ll never be the same–are clear but not overdone. In a Hollywood film scene saturated by sympathetic, disabled characters, Gordon-Levitt’s performance ranks alongside the best. That’s not enough, however, to make up for The Lookout’s flaws. On balance, it’s worth taking a swig from, but it’s not going to quench anyone’s thirst for a great film.