*. The defining characteristic of the condition of the arts in the twenty-first century (thus far) mirrors what’s also been going on in the broader economy: the establishment of a winner-takes-all lottery where a few bestsellers, hit albums, or blockbuster movies get all the attention/audience/money and the rest essentially disappear.
*. I guess for a while when it was in development The Lookout seemed as though it might have been in the running for being one of these winners. There was a script by Scott Frank, who had an established record of writing major hits. There was talk of Spielberg being interested, and then of David Fincher coming on board. One can imagine the budgets being discussed.
*. But those deals fell through and that movie didn’t get made. Instead, Frank himself took the reins as director and the shoot traveled up to Winnipeg to stand in for Kansas, with a budget of around $15 million. What they ended up with is a fine little modern noir heist movie, but one that disappeared at the box office. As with the mid-list, the mid-tier (and the middle class in general) are getting squeezed.
*. This is disappointing, as there are some good performances here, especially by the two leads Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Goode. Where the movie falls down, ironically, is with Frank’s script. It just isn’t all that interesting. I think Amy Simmons, writing in Time Out, summed it up well as “forgettable fun”: “a straightforward genre piece in which double-crosses and surprise twists lead to the inevitable.”
*. As per the standard noir plot our hero Chris Pratt (not the actor) is a bit of a wimp and a loser after being in a car accident that has left him mentally impaired in a very slight way. The only job he can do is pushing a mop after-hours at a bank. This makes him an easy mark for Goode’s Gary Spargo, who wants to rob said bank. Things get messy, the thieves fall out, but (more than a little improbably) everything works out in the end for the good guys.
*. Franks wanted to make a movie more about character than story, considering this to be “European.” He may have been getting this idea from a distinction Roger Ebert made between American and European movies, with the former driven by story and the latter being about characters. Alas, while the story here is pretty thin and free of twists, I didn’t find the characters all that interesting either. Chris is bland. Gary is a bad dude, only made human or distinct by his asthma inhaler. Jeff Daniels is just a dude dude, and blind. Isla Fisher is “Luvlee” Lemons, who is about as deep a character as her name implies. Even the blind dude can see through her.
*. Also worthy of mention is Greg Dunham playing Geddy Lee playing the venomous gang member “Bone.” Movies like this need these silent, sinister figures to give them an extra spark. Bone is so bad he even wears shades in a dark basement. Maybe he’s blind too. You never know.
*. Still, this is a decent, clean movie, nicely photographed in a way that brings out the stark, barren atmosphere of Kansas/Manitoba in winter, places where people don’t go outdoors very much. I don’t think it stands out as anything special finally, but it’s better, and by that I mean both more substantial and more creatively executed, than many blockbusters. But has the non-blockbuster audience left the building? I don’t know where little movies like this fit anymore.