'The Lookout'

Stars deserve attention

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Add Jeff Daniels to the list of the most underrated actors.

Allen Fraser, Miramax Films
Jeff Daniels, left, as Lewis and Joseph Gordon Levitt as Chris in "The Lookout."
Click photo for larger image.

'The Lookout'

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode.
Director: Scott Frank.
Rating: R for language, some violence and sexual content.

He has a supporting role in "The Lookout" as a blind man with a keen sense of humor and ability to suss out a con or phony. He also can flirt with finesse.

Daniels and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt are among the actors who allow "The Lookout" to rise above its implausibilities, improbabilities and convenient turns and prove to be a nifty little thriller about a bank robbery.

Gordon-Levitt, whose credits range from the remake of "Angels in the Outfield" (he attended the 1994 premiere at Three Rivers Stadium) and TV's "3rd Rock from the Sun" to "Brick" and "Mysterious Skin," plays Chris Pratt, a night janitor at a bank in tiny Noel, Kansas.

His days are consumed with rigid routine and class at the Independent Life Skills Center of Kansas City. The movie's opening scene, which culminates in a horrible accident, shows how he landed there and why he has visible scars on his scalp, back and arm.

Invisible is the head injury he suffered, which is why he relies on his blind roommate, Lewis (Daniels), for help in everything from making dinner to remembering his family's invitation for Thanksgiving.

What Chris, a former hotshot high school athlete, wants will never be possible. "I just wanna be who I was," he tells a case worker.

Instead of scoring on the ice and speeding down the highway with his girlfriend at his side, he spends his nights listening to hockey on the radio and at his job, waxing the bank floor. His routine is broken only by a deputy sheriff who arrives bearing doughnuts and chatter each night.

Chris is ripe for the picking by a band of low-lifes, who figure he's their ticket to the bank. Chris buys into the mantra of the ringleader, a former schoolmate named Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode): "Whoever has the money has the power."

The stage seems to be set for a heist but, as required by movie law, things don't proceed as planned. To list the improbable turns would ruin the movie but unless you're watching George Clooney in "Ocean's Eleven," you can assume someone might not make it out alive or intact.

Scott Frank, who adapted the Elmore Leonard novel "Out of Sight" (with Clooney and Jennifer Lopez), does double duty here as writer and first-time director. He has a wonderful talent for casting and ear for dialogue, along with a clever way of telling a story, but his pacing is a bit off. The air goes out of the movie after a climactic sequence but the story reinflates itself a bit before the closing scenes.

Daniels delivers his usual fine performance while Goode looks, sounds and acts nothing like the British swell who was Scarlett Johansson's fiance in "Match Point." Isla Fisher, the "Wedding Crashers" star who turns up on the red carpet with beau Sacha Baron Cohen, brings a tenderness to her role as a former stripper named Luvlee Lemons.

The story hinges on Gordon-Levitt's ability to play a young man trying to find his way through the fog of his new life. Not everyone can do that; Harrison Ford tried as a shooting victim in "Regarding Henry," and it wasn't one of his finest hours.

Gordon-Levitt abandons his appealing smile and ability to confidently banter. While his character's abilities seem to ebb and flow, given what we've been told, he does a very fine job. And a supporting character seems doomed from the start but manages to bow out with some surprising strength.

"The Lookout," filmed in Canada subbing for the wintry, flat Midwest, turns on the tale. It's an unconventional, imperfect but intriguing little crime thriller with an unconventional, imperfect but intriguing leading man.

Post-Gazette movie editor Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.


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