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The Lookout

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First-time director Scott Frank’s The Lookout didn’t make much of a splash in its limited theatrical release earlier this year, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s less a cannon-balling blockbuster than a silent swim in the psychological deep end. It’s also got a bit of a split personality.

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a small-town hockey hero who wrecks his life when he plows his car and his friends into a combine stalled on the highway. (He was driving with the headlights off to show his girlfriend the fireflies.) The wreck leaves him with sequencing difficulties, so he compiles the progress of his days in the notebook he carries everywhere.

So far so good. Gordon-Levitt smolders through Pratt’s guilt and frustration, his dark eyes registering the tiniest indignities, and Frank pairs him with Jeff Daniels as Lewis, a blind buddy from the local Independent Skills Center and a gruffly comic counterweight to Pratt’s explosive trauma.

There’s the basis here, and acting talent to spare, for a nice quiet character study, an exquisite miniature of truth and consequence, but when a seemingly sympathetic barfly named Gary (Matthew Goode) takes Pratt under his wing, the plot starts spiraling into its secret life as a heist flick. Pratt works nights at a downtown Farm Bureau bank, you see, and Gary and his crew have whipped themselves into an improbable frenzy over the way the feds keep America’s farmers in indentured servitude. So with a sexual assist from Gary’s gal pal Luvlee, the Farm-Aid gang pressures Pratt into service as their titular lookout.

Things go wildly wrong, as they tend to do in heist flicks, but in the end Pratt emerges unscathed into the clear light of a slightly-too-pat voice-over wrap-up during which we learn that our hero has somehow come to terms with his corrosive self-loathing over the combine accident: “It’s part of me now…All I can do is wake up and try to forgive myself.”

Ugh. It’s a trite and unearned ending to a movie that tries just a little too hard to be too many things, and it almost—but not quite—obscures the fact that The Lookout does most of those things exceedingly well.

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