Dir/Scr: Scott Frank. US. 2007. 99 mins.

Opening Night Film at the SXSW Film Festival, The Lookout is the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Scott Frank (Out Of Sight, Get Shorty, Minority Report, The Interpreter and Little Man Tate).

A somewhat uneven, but always engaging film, The Lookout is set to be released in the US in late March by Miramax. While always solidly workmanlike (if not always actively compelling), its lack of star power and the preponderance of familiar generic elements will limit domestic box-office. However, high - if modestly financed - production values should interest TV buyers around the world, and the brio of its often stylish film noir elements may even warrant limited theatrical release in a few territories.

The story centres on a star teenage athlete named Chris Pratt (Gordon-Levitt) whose life, and the lives of several friends, is shattered during the highly tense and expertly structured opening scene featuring foolish high school hijinks in a fast-moving car with its lights off late at night. Four years later, we find Chris suffering serious mental dysfunction and loads of guilt. His job as a late-night cleaner in a bank attracts some old chums who pretend to befriend him to gain access to the vault.

As might be expected in a film directed by such an accomplished screenwriter, the story, despite a few odd quirks, is well-told, and the dialogue, which is perhaps overly heavy in the film's first half, and occasionally theatrical and artificial, is nevertheless sparkling. Chris's blind, yet often hilarious roommate Lewis (Daniels) has the preponderance of good lines and, given Daniels' excellent comic timing, this character and this performance are far and away the best things about the film. The opening act that establishes Chris's mental difficulties, which primarily involve an inability to put his activities in their proper sequence will remind viewers of a better film, Memento, in that Chris is forced to write everything down to make sense of the most mundane activities of daily life. The editing that accompanies these disjointed attempts is superbly apposite to what is being portrayed.

By the end of the film, director Frank mutes the snappy and ubiquitous dialogue that has peppered the film from the beginning, and wisely allows Coen-brothers' like visuals, which are often striking, to tell the remainder of the suspenseful if somewhat cliched story of ultra-bad stereotypes contending with the resourceful innocents who finally emerge victorious. With one or two exceptions, especially Luvlee (Fisher), as the femme fatale, the acting is first-rate, if occasionally and, presumably, purposely, over-the-top.

There is a strange fable-like or even stylised quality that pervades the film, and it's not always clear whether it is intentional or simply a matter of directorial inexperience. It is at its worst in the portrayal of Chris's rich, uncaring, and utterly caricatured family, who seem borrowed from a soap opera or a Douglas Sirk movie, but at other moments the stylisation adds a haunting quality that hints at a nuanced richness that director Frank may very well succeed in realising in subsequent films.

Production companies/backers
Laurence Mark Productions
Miramax Films
Parkes/MacDonald Productions
Spyglass Entertainment

US distributor

Gary Barber
Roger Birnbaum
Laurence Mark
Walter F. Parkes

Jill Savitt

Alar Kivilo

James Newton Howard

Main cast
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Isla Fisher
Matthew Goode
Jeff Daniels
Bruce McGill