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Friday, March 30, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"The Lookout" | A crystal-clear look at man in heartbreaking haze

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"The Lookout," with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Carla Gugino. Written and directed by Scott Frank.

99 minutes. Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content. Several theaters.

Scott Frank's moody thriller "The Lookout" has at its center a young man who isn't there. Chris (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was once a golden boy; a star hockey player and a popular figure at his Midwestern high school. A terrible accident on prom night ended all that, and now, four years later, Chris is a ghost of his former self. Permanently changed by a brain injury suffered that night, he moves through his uneventful days, his spotty memory aided by handwritten reminders. At his job as a night janitor for a bank, he plays hockey alone in the dim light with a broom and wastebasket, trying to capture a fleeting moment of what he once was.

Frank, a well-known screenwriter ("Out of Sight," "Get Shorty," "Minority Report"), makes his directing debut with some challenging material. It's difficult to put a character as unresponsive as Chris at the center of a film; the audience doesn't have a way to connect with him, and the sad, blank way Gordon-Levitt plays him is extraordinarily subtle. But Frank has created a scenario through which Chris immediately engages our sympathies: An old high school friend, Gary (Matthew Goode), turns up and befriends Chris, before revealing an ulterior motive. He's planning a bank heist and needs the janitor's help.

As Chris becomes a not-quite-unwilling pawn of Gary's gang, "The Lookout" occasionally slips into an easy pitfall: Chris' brain injury functions in the way injuries often do in the movies. At moments crucial to the plot, he's capable of remembering essential things; at other less-crucial moments, he sometimes can't. It's not always believable, but Frank's taut direction and smart dialogue make it always compelling.

And it's darkly elegant to look at. Director of photography Alar Kivilo finds the damp, bleak misery in a Midwestern winter and creates one breathtaking shot with Isla Fisher, who plays Chris' would-be girlfriend (a setup arranged by Gary). Standing framed in a frost-rimmed window, her pale beauty quietly glows, like a portrait on the wall of a Victorian parlor.

All of the performances (except for one too-obvious Bad Guy Who Doesn't Speak) are nicely nuanced, particularly Jeff Daniels as Chris' blind, laid-back roommate, and Fisher, whose tiny, metallic voice finds a touching wistfulness in her tough-girl character. (Her name, it must be said, is Luvlee Lemons, which should have been a warning to Chris right there.) Gordon-Levitt, the talented star of "Mysterious Skin," finds something heartbreaking behind Chris' blankness; you can almost watch, on his face, memory quietly draining away. Quietly flavored with sad resignation, it's a performance that's remarkable for what isn't there.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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