Stepping into the ring are, wait a minute, it’ll come to me, um, let me check I wrote it down somewhere, yeah, here it is… two films from writer/directors about people with memory problems, who are wrapped up in crime, forced to deal with skeevy people while trying to overcome their substantial problems. That would be “The Lookout” from writer/director Scott Frank and “Memento” from writer/director Christopher Nolan.
“The Lookout” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt who was so unbelievably good in “Brick” a few years ago. This time he plays Chris Pratt, a privileged rich kid and hockey star who sustained a serious head injury in a car accident and now, basically, can’t even remember the proper sequence of his everyday activities. I mean, if you have to write down whether or not you should take a shower before you get dressed, you have issues, yes? In this film, Pratt gets sucked into a bank robbery by a charismatic criminal played by Matthew Goode and a former stripper played by Isla Fisher, and before long he’s playing the, you guessed it, “The Lookout.” This crime is in the “Fargo” and “Blood Simple” genre in that it doesn’t go according to plan, and once it goes wrong, it gets violent. Chris, who can’t remember if he brushed his teeth this morning, has to save himself and his friend, the blind roommate played beautifully by Jeff Daniels whose piece of sage advice is to “start at the end” and work to the beginning.
The Defending Champion
If you’ve seen “Memento,” then you must remember what a rush it was the first time. Where Levitt’s Chris Pratt has to write everything down, Guy Pearce, playing the singularly named Leonard, has taken to writing it down all over his body in tattoos and scrawling notes on Polaroid pictures of people he will be re-introduced to in his life. This film is anything but linear, it jumps around, mostly backward to forward. Leonard needs to solve the murder of his wife, something that would vex the average guy, but he has to do with half a brain tied behind his back. Worse, he has no idea who to trust (hence the Polaroids).
Both of these films are beautifully crafted, but they are not the same by any measure. First, “The Lookout” stands on the shoulders of “Memento” (and it’s interesting that Scott Frank would even invite the comparison with Nolan’s work by going for this). “Memento” wins that battle on sheer originality. Frank has also decided to build his movie slowly, introducing us to Chris Pratt’s mental confusion first, then springing the crime trap around him. “Memento” throws us into the soup from the get-go. Both films are full of terrific performances. Matthew Goode is just as good (sorry!) as Joe Pantoliano in the friend-or-foe role, and Isla Fisher stands just as tall as Carrie-Anne Moss in the girlfriend-or-foe role. As far as the central conceit of memory loss, “The Lookout” actually does a brilliant job of making us feel the real frustration and paranoia that goes with a head injury. There’s a scene where Levitt’s Pratt is at a party with strangers where the mental confusion couldn’t have been more subtle but more artfully done. Excellent work.
In a sea of Will Ferrell comedies that are the same movie again and again, both of these stand out as great entertainment. “The Lookout” starts so much slower than the competition here, sucking you in, that by the time it gets to the end, it feels rushed and the complications not all that complicated. “Memento” grows and twists and turns with every frame. This is one defending champion that keeps the crown. If you haven’t seen it, just drop everything and rent it now. “The Lookout” will be a great rental someday very soon.