The Lookout

Absorbing . . .

So you want a good heist film? See Dog Day Afternoon, as tense a study in botched robbery and kidnapping to come out of the '70's as any. Don't think the sweet Lookout will carry the same tension because it so heavily relies on the character exposition of its protagonist, Chris (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), that the heist is just an artful ending to an absorbing study of depression and rehabilitation.

Chris, a rock-star hockey player in high school, terminates that celebrity with a reckless accident that leaves him impaired emotionally and physically. So he's easy prey for a gang that entices him to help them rob a rural Kansas bank, where he is a janitor. Up to the point of the gang contacting him, Chris tries heroically to perform actions in a logical sequence. But even his family, especially his father, is impatient with his arrested development, although they are generous in financially supporting him as he goes on the mend.

Writer/director Scott Frank rarely lets Chris out of the frame, to good effect, because the actor and his lamentable past draw us into his narrow world in sympathy but not pity. Chris is determined to arrange his life in a sequence, with the help of his notebook and roomie, a blind and perceptive, bearded, guitar-playing Jeff Daniels, whose lines provide humor and balancing perspective as Chris slips into the heist. Both actors exude realistic, humorous, world weary personas that perfectly reveal the ambivalence Chris brings to this life-defining crime.

The Lookout is a small film, released at dumping time right after the Oscars, but an invigorating study of humans under stress. It begs all of us to "lookout" where we are going, either on a lonely road with our lights turned off or in a plan to steal from farmers who have made life possible.