The best young actor in movies today may well be Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
A few people may remember him from his five-year stint (1996-2001) as adolescent Tommy Solomon on the television situation comedy Third Rock from the Sun.
A few others may know him from two recent movies -- Mysterious Skin (2004) and Brick (2005). He was extraordinary in Mysterious Skin, but his performance and the film were too raw to reach a broad audience. I thought Mysterious Skin was in the top five movies of 2004, and Gordon-Levitt blew me away.
Gordon-Levitt was also effective in Brick, although he was better than the movie.
One wonders if Joseph Gordon-Levitt ever will reach a wide audience and get the appreciation he deserves. He's 26, went to Columbia University for a short time, and hates celebrity. He has a great appreciation of language and seeks literate roles. He may be unwilling to make the compromises that seem necessary for stardom. But Gordon-Levitt sure picks interesting, challenging roles.
Currently Gordon-Levitt is in a movie that has a chance to be more commercial than his past efforts. It is The Lookout.
In The Lookout Gordon-Levitt plays Chris Pratt, a former high school hockey star, who had serious brain damage in a car crash for which he was responsible. Two passengers were killed; Chris and a girl survived.
Four years after the horrendous car accident, Chris is still both physically and psychologically wounded. He has to write down his everyday routines, so he will remember what they are. He is trying to order a disordered mind.
Chris lives with Lewis (Jeff Daniels), an older, witty, amiable friend and mentor. Lewis is blind, but "sees" more than Chris does. Chris studies to try to regain some equilibrium. At night he is janitor at a bank. But Chris gets lured into participating in a heist. The outcome has violent and ironic results.
The Lookout was written and directed by Scott Frank, who did the screenplays of Elmore Leonard's novels Get Shorty and Out of Sight. The Lookout is the first film Frank has directed.
Frank uses the conventions of buddy movies and heist films, but he takes them into fresh regions.
Set in rural Kansas, The Lookout seems to owe some of its qualities to the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino. It's erratic and sly. It's a tale of manipulation, guilt, and determination.
It is a formidable directorial debut. Frank is aided by a gifted cast. Gordon-Levitt is excellent as the sometimes addled but determined Chris. He gives the character affecting dimension.
Jeff Daniels is impressive as the blind but very perceptive Lewis. Daniels is another actor who often is better than the films he is in, like The Squid and the Whale. In The Lookout, Daniels has a role he can sink his eyeteeth into.
Matthew Goode is ominous as the villainous Gary Spargo, whose creed is, "Those who have the money have the power." Isla Fisher is alluring as the provocative Luvlee Lemons who captivates Chris.
Although not as good as Mysterious Skin, The Lookout seems worthy of Gordon-Levitt's talents.
In a world of celebrity-actors and fool's gold, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the real thing. May he prosper.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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