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The Lookout (2007)

Miramax Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/14/2007

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/15/2007

Hopefully, when we watch movies, we have some sort of reaction. Comedies make us laugh, dramas make us cry, horror films make us jump. A well-made movie should elicit some sort of response from the viewer, even if it's just one time during the movie. But, some movies go even further than that. Instead of just get feedback from the audience, they create a mood which overwhelms the viewer -- and this may or may not be a pleasant experience. The Lookout is such a film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in The Lookout as Chris Pratt, a young man who suffered a head injury in a car accident. Because of the trauma, Chris sometimes has problems with his memory, has impulse control issues, and can mis-identify objects. Despite these issues, Chris attempts to live life on his own terms. He shares an apartment with Lewis (Jeff Daniels), who is blind. By day, Chris attends classes at an independent living center. At night, he works as a janitor in a rural bank. Chris' family is wealthy, but he has decided that he wants to do things his way.

While at a bar one night, Chris meets Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), a man who claims to remember Chris from high school, although Chris doesn't remember him. Gary introduces Chris to his friend Luvlee (Isla Fisher), with whom Chris is immediately smitten. Chris soon begins to spend time with Luvlee, Gary, and their unusual group of friends -- who includes an older man who never speaks who simply goes by the name Bone (Greg Dunham). Gary says that he recalls what a great hockey player Chris was in high school, and asks him a lot of probing questions. But, it soon becomes clear that Gary and his friends aren't simply slackers and that they are drawing Chris into a very dangerous world.

The Lookout comes to us from Scott Frank, who is making his directorial debut here. Frank is usually sighted for his screenplay adaptations such as Minority Report, Get Shorty and Out of Sight. However, I'm a fan of Frank's work based on his script for the 1991 film Dead Again. That classic movie has a tightly-woven plot which keeps the audience guessing until the end.

For The Lookout, Frank doesn't resort to any writing tricks. Despite the fact that the DVD box claims that the film contains "a twist you'll never see coming", the story is fairly straight-forward. (I'm scratching my head over what that twist could be.) That's not to say that story isn't original, as it is, but Frank doesn't try to pull a fast one on the audience through his storytelling. Nor are there any Tarantino-esque editing stunts. Instead, the movie oozes with mood. In short, The Lookout is a very bleak film. The movie opens with a car accident, and doesn't get much peppier from there. This is a dark movie, set in the bitter, snow-covered locales of Missouri and Kansas. The subject matter is fairly grim, as we watch Chris cope with his life, and once we learn of Gary's plan, the mood becomes much more tense. During the finale, the film moves from tense to intense and the last few minutes are edge-of-your-seat material. All of this creates an experience which stays with you after the film ends.

But, here's the question: Is that for everyone? If you are looking for a movie which resonates, than The Lookout is a fine choice. But, if you are hoping for a standard thriller, and want to watch something just for entertainment, then this movie may leave you feeling short-changed.

Of course, Frank and co. shouldn't be knocked for making a good movie and The Lookout certainly has some quality components. Again, the film's look is important and director of photography Alar Kivilo does a great job of capturing the bleak snow-covered landscapes and the dark interiors. The cast does a great job here, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays a character who could have easily been unlikable or pitiful, but he keeps a very even keel on Chris. Daniels is very believable as the blind Lewis.

If you're burned out on the colorful, loud, and shallow theatrical offerings of the summer, then The Lookout may be a good alternative. Imagine a film which has shades of Memento and A Simple Plan and you'll get an idea of where this movie is coming from. It's not something that you'll rent for a movie party, but those looking for a visceral experience will enjoy it.

The Lookout remembers being on DVD courtesy of Miramax Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The movie was shot on the Panavision Genesis HD camera, thus the image is quite sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. Again, much of the film takes place against a snowy backdrop, which can often create video problems. But, this transfer is stable, showing no video noise or overt artifacting. The colors look fine, although the film is filled with muted tones. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and while this is a dialogue-driven drama, there is nice usage of surround sound and subwoofer effects during key scenes -- not enough to overwhelm you, but enough to add to the scene.

The Lookout DVD contains only three extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director Scott Frank and director of photography Alar Kivilo. Frank, the first-time director, is tough on himself and points out a lot of what he feels are flaws in the film. Outside of that, they talk about the locations and the actors. They speak extensively about the look of the film. In "Behind the Mind of Chris Pratt" (9 minutes), Joseph Gordon-Levitt shares his thoughts on the character and how he approached the performance. "Sequencing The Lookout" (20 minutes) is a detailed making-of featurette which has comments from the cast and crew and a great deal of on-set footage. It focuses on the script's conception, the casting, the production design, and on Scott Frank as a director.

On August 9, 2011, Echo Bridge Entertainment, through an arrangement with Miramax, brought The Lookout to Blu-ray Disc.  The film's original 2.40:1 framing has been cropped to 1.78:1.  We rarely get any "pan 'n scan" feel, but it looks as if the transfer has simply zoomed in on the middle part of the image, so it's very easy to assume that we are losing visual information from the sides of the screen.  The 1080p HD transfer runs at an average of 25 Mbps.  The image is grainy at times, but not consistently so throughout the film -- some shots are nicely clear.  The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright.  There are some halo effects here, especially around the actors' shoulders.  The level of detail is acceptable, but the picture looks a bit flat.  The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps.  The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects.  Well, if anything positive can be said, it's that Echo Bridge is improving with their Blu-rays as we actually get a lossless track here.  The stereo effects are good and show nice separation.  These effects help to illustrate sounds coming from off-screen.  The subwoofer effects are fairly good, most notably adding bass to the musical score.  The surround sound effects compliment the stereo effects, but they are too discrete, not bringing their own voice to the movie. 

In another positive move for Echo Bridge, The Lookout Blu-ray Disc actually contains the same extras as the DVD release.

Review Copyright 2007/2011 by Mike Long