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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Hollywood writer who scripted "Get Shorty" and "Out of Sight" has turned to directing. And we have a review now of "The Lookout" from Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN: "The Lookout" is a writer's thriller. Sure, it's cleanly and efficiently directed, and it contains some crackerjack acting, but the reason it's a real pleasure to watch is that a writer's sensibility is the foundation on which everything is built. It doesn't hurt, of course, that the writer in question is Scott Frank, making his directing debut. When Frank as one of his character say everything is a story, stories help us make sense of the world, you know the writer believes it.

More than the story, about bank robbery and betrayal, what makes "The Lookout" a writer's film is its strong sense of character. It's that uncommon genre film which has invested both time and skill in the creation of carefully constructed personalities, and not just one or two, but some half a dozen. The film's characters may have started average genre types, but by the time Frank and the cast have done their work, they have both texture and individuality.

That cast is lead by Jeff Daniels and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, once a star of TV's "Third Rock From the Sun." Gordon-Levitt stars as Chris. He's introduced as a hotshot high school athlete in tiny Noel, Kansas. But then the unexpected happens, as it often does in thrillers. A terrible accident turns the golden boy into a slower, more damaged individual. Chris gets frustrated, confused and angry easily. And like Guy Pearce's character in "Memento," he needs to write everything down, if he's to have even a prayer of remembering.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Lookout")

Ms. ISLA FISHER (Actress): (As Luvlee) What do you do?

Mr. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (Actor): (As Chris Pratt) Oh, sorry, I forgot your name.

Ms. FISHER: (As Luvlee) Again? Luvlee. L-U-V-L-E-E. Luvlee.

TURAN: Chris is incapable of living alone and his roommate turns out to be "The Lookout"'s most unexpected character. He's an outlandish blind man named Lewis who wears porkpie hats and makes inappropriate jokes. Jeff Daniels plays him beautifully in a performance that underlines the actor's ability to breathe life into the most off-the-wall characters.

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As character) You say this place is a gas station now?

Mr. JEFF DANIELS (Actor): (As Lewis) Yeah, but you make that work for you, see, keep the gas station theme on the outside. Maybe you, you know, park a VW bus at one of the palms, you paint the name of the place on the side.

Unidentified Man: (As character) Yeah, the name of the place. Ah, yes - Lew(ph)…

Mr. DANIELS (Actor): (As Lewis) Yeah. Loose(ph) your lunch. See, I'm Lewis. Lew. And like I said, the place is just going to reopen for breakfast. It's very clever.

TURAN: "The Lookout"'s writer-director Scott Frank creates a bleak but comfortably lived-in world for his characters. There's nothing surprising about where this film is headed, but that turns out to be just fine. We're so involved with its people, you wouldn't want to go anywhere else.

INSKEEP: Ken Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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