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Chris Pratt is a promising high school athlete. But one fateful night in an effort to impress his girl, he shuts off his headlights as his car speeds down a country lane. Fireflies flow by romantically like a rushing stream of starlight—until a stalled combine in the road cuts their romance short, leaving two friends dead and Chris brain damaged.
Four years later, the handsome young man struggles to keep basic life sequences straight in his head. Waking, showering and eating breakfast become complex problems. Reading the newspaper is exasperating. Chris copes with the help of a blind roommate named Lewis, a regimented routine and little reminders scratched in a notebook: "Go to class at 9:00." "Extra car key in shoe."
Then at a bar one evening, a former high school classmate named Gary recognizes Chris—and ushers him into the seductive company of pretty girls and hard-living, drugged-out friends. Gary's influence also introduces destabilizing changes to Chris' routine, stirring up further frustration with his mental handicap. And it turns out Gary and his cronies know their new friend's routine better than he does—including the fact that Chris works as a night janitor at a bank they intend to rob.
Lewis carefully helps Chris with mundane tasks (such as using a can opener) that he can no longer remember how to do. Lewis is patient and kind, and he's never condescending. And when Lewis is later in danger, Chris puts his own life on the line to save him. Together, the two dream of one day opening a restaurant.
Chris' wealthy parents provide for many of his needs. They give him a car, supply rent and insurance money, and pay for counseling. His dad is occasionally frustrated by Chris' limitations, but he earnestly loves and supports his son. Likewise, Deputy Ted, a local policeman, keeps an eye on him. The officer regularly brings Chris doughnuts during his late-night shifts and makes time for friendly chats, too.
Although Chris hates his handicapped life, he recognizes that there are a number of good people and things in it.
In a couple scenes, the glow of a neon cross that's attached to a building across the street from Chris' apartment is visible through his window.
When Chris first meets the suggestively named Luvlee Lemons, she takes him home to her apartment and changes into a nightgown. A passionate make-out session ensues in which her obviously bare outer thigh lets us know she's not wearing underwear. (Clear sexual allusions pop up in their conversation as well.) Meanwhile, audible moaning from another room signifies Gary's sexual activity with Luvlee's roommate. We glimpse his bare backside (as he walks naked to the refrigerator) and hers too (she's in bed). Lewis greets news of Chris' spontaneous sexual encounter with jokes about intercourse and oral sex (later he talks about masturbation as well), and Chris discovers a sexually explicit note Luvlee left for him in his notebook.
Luvlee uses her sensuality to seduce and manipulate Chris in several other scenes. In those, we see her in a close-fitting T-shirt and skimpy underpants; on Chris' bed in a bra and jeans (he's shirtless too); and wearing nothing but his partially unbuttoned coat (cleavage shows through the front). One of these scenes also implies that they have sex again.
The finale is rife with gunfire and bloody deaths. Deputy Ted takes out several men in an explosive firefight but is eventually hit in the back by a shotgun blast. After he falls, the assailant savagely finishes him off at point-blank range. Chris also shoots another man in the face with a shotgun. We see one character's gory bullet wound several times as he tries to staunch the blood flow; he eventually bleeds to death.
Chris is coerced at gunpoint to retrieve money from the bank vault. Lewis and Chris are both knocked down and punched in the stomach and face several times. Chris has a gun barrel jammed in his face and mouth, and Lewis is shoved to his knees with a shotgun at his head.
Chris also suffers several flashbacks that recall his car wreck, and each one becomes more detailed. We witness someone thrown from the crushed and tumbling vehicle, and Chris is depicted on the ground after the accident with blood covering his face. Shower shots of Chris later reveal close-ups of the resulting scars on his neck, shoulders and head. In one dreamlike vision, Chris approaches the girl who was in the car with him that night. She lifts her skirt to show him her prosthetic leg.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters spit out about 25 f-words and 15 s-words. They combine God's name with "d--n" several times and profane Jesus' name as well. "A--," "d--n" and a crude reference to the female anatomy also pepper the film's dialogue.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A bank teller smokes. Gary and his friends do the same, and in one scene they also share a joint while tossing back shots and wine. Several people consume mixed drinks and beer at a local bar (where Chris takes his prescribed meds with a non-alcoholic beer). Another time, Gary goads Chris into drinking wine. Chris' father drinks hard alcohol while playing chess with him. Luvlee downs beer in her apartment. Lewis tells her about losing his eyesight because of toxic fumes from a meth lab he once worked in.
Other Negative Elements
Chris has an opportunity to warn Deputy Ted of what's happening, but doesn't do so. That passivity ultimately contributes to the officer's demise. Similarly, Lewis and Luvlee both have opportunities to put a stop to what's going down, but neglect to get involved further.
Gary uses Chris' frustration with his handicap to manipulate the confused young man into letting them rob the bank in the dead of night. The bank robbers steal a car for their getaway.
The Lookout is a taut tale told by writer/director Scott Frank (who penned the scripts for The Interpreter and Get Shorty). Developing a back-and-forth, nearly inside-out Memento-style script device, he helps us slide into the shoes of a young man who's paying a huge price for his foolish choices.
But if that sounds like I'm crowing The Lookout's praise, make no mistake, I'm not. Whatever cautionary message this engrossing thriller initially suggests about the long-term cost of a moment's recklessness is overwhelmed by three telling assumptions about what constitutes "normal" behavior—behavior that's represented by the film's hero, not its villains.
One: In social gatherings, swearing is standard. Chris' outbursts of foul language are supposedly used as an indicator of the lack of control he has over his mental faculties. The only problem is, he doesn't sound any different than the rest of the cast.
Two: Hopping casually into the sack with any cute stranger is cool, and any normal person would do the same thing given the opportunity. When Lewis discovers Chris had sex with a girl he just met, he slaps him on the back approvingly. Later, he sends Chris out for more of the same with his blessing, even though he suspects this gorgeous woman might have ulterior motives.
Three: In a volatile situation, you're to take matters into your own hands. When Chris recognizes things are slipping out of control, he doesn't go to his friend Deputy Ted for help (which would have spared many lives—including the officer's) but tries to deal with his considerable conundrum alone—virtually guaranteeing a bloody conclusion to the confrontation.
Once upon a time in Hollywood, protagonists behaving in these ways would have seemed shocking. No more. Increasingly, screenwriters and directors assume that such choices are the norm. These days, we'd almost be more shocked if such immoral behavior wasn't present. Suffice it to say trimming that content from The Lookout would have resulted in a much better film. A film worth crowing about.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Chris Pratt; Jeff Daniels as Lewis; Matthew Goode as Gary Spargo; Isla Fisher as Luvlee Lemons; Sergio Di Zio as Deputy Ted
Scott Frank ( A Walk Among the Tombstones)