It’s sharp as a dagger and bold like a cup of the finest coffee you’ve ever tasted.
What do we talk about when we discuss the great crime-centric cinema of the 21st century? The opening sequence of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008)? Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006) is on the list, for sure. Likewise for David Fincher’s Zodiac and the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, both released in 2007, which one could argue was the greatest stretch of film releases in the past 19 years. The year brought us such unforgettable works as There Will Be Blood, Eastern Promises, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Ratatouille, Superbad and Hot Fuzz, but it’s a shame when a truly great movie gets forgotten among such formidable competition. Especially when it’s a film as great as Scott Frank’s 2007 film, The Lookout.
Satisfying in its pulpiness and gripping in its storytelling, you’d think that the directorial debut of Frank—the screenwriter of such prime crime films as 1995’s Get Shorty and 1998’s Out of Sight—would’ve stood the test of time. And while it was critically acclaimed at the time, it feels as if this insightful, exciting and edge-of-your-seat film is never discussed, not in the context of its release year nor even among crime film aficionados.
The Lookout has everything a crime-driven drama needs. A compelling protagonist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the now hilariously-named “Chris Pratt”) who is thrown into participating in a bank robbery against his will. The cool and collective criminal who draws him in (Matthew Goode). A humorous side character (Jeff Daniels). A honeypot (Isla Fisher). A dynamic score by James Newton Howard. A suspenseful heist sequence. A thrilling climactic standoff. And yet, the film seems to have been lost in the past dozen years. And it’s about damn time it’s found again.
Even though it hits all the beats of its genre like clockwork, the film is most original in its focus on character-building. For quite some time, Gordon-Levitt’s character is the plot. During much of its first and second act, the film focuses on its protagonist entering a new world after a car crash kills two of his friends, injures his girlfriend and leaves Chris with anterograde amnesia. The film opens with this accident, then picks up four years later as we find Chris still struggling to live with his debilitating, irreparable brain damage. And as the driver, Chris is also riddled with guilt. The best part of the storytelling is that The Lookout never rushes this character development. Frank insists that we must truly know Chris before he’s challenged by the temptations of crime. And as such, everything that follows is all the more compelling.
The Lookout deserves to be discussed with many of 2007’s standout releases, especially after being unfairly buried in the cultural hivemind. It’s sharp as a dagger and bold like a cup of the finest coffee you’ve ever tasted. It’s an exemplary crime film that has never truly been recognized as one, so consider this a plea to reconsider this hugely underrated entertainment.