In an age of moviemaking where non-linear storytelling has, in some ways, gone from the exception to the norm, the trailer for The Lookout-- with screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report) making his directorial debut -- didn't inspire confidence. It shows a hero (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) suffering from a traumatic head injury that affects his memory, a bad guy (a nearly-unrecognizable Matthew Goode) planning a bank heist with our hero's help and a character actor (Jeff Daniels) intoning "Start at the end, and then go back from there ..." before the trailer explodes in a barrage of stutter-cuts and rewind noises. I could feel my eyes involuntarily roll at The Lookout's trailer, and some small, cynical part of myself said "Oh, awesome -- Memento, Jr." And then, I found myself surprised by The Lookout -- and not just because of the fact that, trailer and Frank's work on Out of Sight aside, it unspooled in a fashion as clean and linear as a bullet from the muzzle of a rifle.
I admired its economy, its modernist spin on classic noir ideas, its unexpected surprises and ultimately the fact that the film's central spine wasn't twists or tricks but rather an iron-strong emotional core, brought to life with an ambitious but never showy performance by Gordon-Levitt. As The Lookout opens, teens roll down a road in the night, laughing and smiling -- one couple in the front, one couple in the back. Chris Pratt (Gordon-Levitt) is driving; he kills the lights so they can see the fireflies stream by in the Kansas darkness. And then something bad happens -- unexpected, irreversible. We flash forward four long years, and Chris is having a hard time of it. He forgets things -- the apartment he shares with garrulous, blind roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels) is marked with Dymo-tape reminders: "lock door from the outside"; "turn off alarm." Chris can't find things easily, or gets confused; unable to locate a can opener, we watch as he tries to open a can of tomatoes with the garlic press. We know it won't work; Chris knows it won't work. But he can't stop trying.