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SXSW2007: The Premiere of “the Lookout”

Wow!

The Lookout” is one of the first movies all year that made me lean over to Lauren at the end and say “That was awesome”. I’m sorry “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Children of Men”, you both were important and worthy, but this was out and out fun and suspenseful.

The main thing that I thought was great is that this may be one of the most tight scripts I’ve ever seen put to screen and that’s probably no accident as the director and writer were Scott Frank (Out of Sight, say no more). I never once had that feeling of “oh yeah, but where did he conveniently get implement X” or, “Oh yeah, the granny can handle the shotgun, sure” or “where did he conveniently become a master of kung-fu?”. No plot point was thrown in as part of a solution as a screenwriting conundrum, all the tools needed were part of the character’s natural evolution or back-story.

And what is the tight plot that was presented in the film? Essentially future hockey great and alpha male Chris ( Joseph Gordon-Levitt ) and his friends are pursuing a scene of pure rural beauty and enchantment when disaster strikes, leaving him with a memory condition that requires him to write things down.

“Uh, we saw that in Memento”.

Well, you did and you didn’t, my interlocutors. Memento hinged on a character having to write things down because he would forget them, this character writes them down because he has trouble with sequence, he has trouble with remembering the rules of what he has to do. So the pitch of his mental instability is not “Oh hell, he’ll forget”, but is something much more relatable, the feeling of having the word stuck on the tip of your tongue … but for every task that is required for day to day living.

The opening act of the film shows us his regular life within this maddening world of not quite able to be completely independent. He learns to live by repetition, pattern, and writing it down. He visits an independent living skills school. He works as a janitor in a small bank after hours. He shares his life, and his small, dingy apartment with Lewis, played wonderfully by a bearded Jeff Daniels ( this guy was in Dumb and Dumber, who knew!? ). Lewis is blind and, effectively serves as the “seer” and Greek chorus, uniting the acts where Chris' difficulties can’t quite link up the narrative that we see, but that he cannot.

Chris lives his simple version of a life, occasionally taking time to watch skaters on the ice and have flashbacks to the accident. It’s a world where he can get by, thanks to his School for Living Skills, Lewis, his job, and his wealthy family’s funding of his car and rent. He dreams of a better job, perhaps working as a teller at the bank whose floor he buffs.

His life is our life.

Enter the devil.

Michael Goode’s character Gary comes to Chris, reminding him of entitlement, power, beauty, and strength: “your old life”. Through a series of orchestrations, Chris comes to trust Gary, believe in Gary, and believe that Gary can actually provide that most seductive of elixirs: your old life.

His life is our life.

And the temptations are potent. True (faked) respect, true non-discussion of his inabilities, and that most potent drug, the sweet perfume of the beautiful girl in the bar on your pillow ( played well by Isla Fisher ).

And once you’ve begun your habit, the rates get raised.

Gary pushes, cajoles, and coerces Chris into a part in the heist of his bank. The friends of Gary now turn into the list of the usual suspects: a safecracker, a driver, a leader ( Gary ), and the incomparable James Woods as “Bone”, the guy for “wet work”.

At this point you should see that Chris' life is certainly in jeopardy and that it’s only a matter of success of the heist until he is at the business end of Bone’s shotgun.

So our protagonist, with certain mental limitations must figure out how to save his skin, maybe do the right thing, and maybe forge his own independent existence with his handicap.

The venue for the premiere was Austin’s beautiful and historic Paramount theater. Arriving about an hour early, bade holders wrapped around congress and onto the back side. Around 8:30 they started letting us file into the fine venue. Around 9:00 pm, the director and the cast entered. Present were Mr. Gordon-Levitt, Mr. Goode, the director, and Laura Vandervoort.

Afterwards there was an after-party at the Fox and Hound on 4th and Colorado. While we walked to the destination I asked Lauren if she was interested in attending and she was not. As such, we kept walking to the car, which was parked nearby.

We went back north, stopped at Kerby Lane north and then returned home because we knew that this morning would be busy with the first full day of SXSW Interactive.

More later, but catch “The Lookout” when it comes to your town!

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