+ "The Lookout": Much love for Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s turn as a young man recovering from a serious head injury in "Out of Sight" screenwriter Scott Frank‘s directorial debut. He’s "convincing as one of cinemaâ€™s most difficult archetypes: the reactive protagonist whose complex emotions are visible to the viewer but invisible to his fellow characters," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the New York Times, who finds that there’s a lot to like in the Kansas City-set neo-noir, even if it doesn’t like up to its hype as the product of "one of Hollywood’s great unproduced scripts." Robert Wilonsky at the Village Voice calls him "worth the admission all by his lonesome. He allows that there are moments when "The Lookout" "feels like an early screenplay from a veteran writer… but when considered as a whole, when appreciated and absorbed from hypnotic start to thrilling finish, The Lookout works." Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club laud’s Gordon-Levitt’s "magnificently subtle piece of work." He notes that "there’s nothing terribly original about The Lookout," but lauds the fact that its thriller elements are "ultimately in service of a better understanding of the characters. Usually, it’s the other way around."
"’The Lookout’ is so refreshingly straightforward that at first you may not know what to make of it." writes Stephanie Zacharek at Salon. She’s very fond of the film, comparing it to "a well-made garment turned inside-out: The structure, the dialogue, the characters — these aren’t just part of the movie. They are the movie." Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly speculates on what the film would have been like in the hands of one of the other directors who’d been attached to the long-gestating project:
In Sam Mendesâ€™ hands, the movie would have been too clever and referential by half, while David Fincher would have sucked the warmth out of it. Either of those directors would have made shorter, snappier work of the heist than does Frank, who does a perfectly competent, if unremarkable, job.
She does like the film, declaring it "funny, tender and littered with elegantly written characters played by actors cast for goodness of fit rather than star wattage." At New York, David Edelstein finds the writing "razor-sharp" and the filmmaking "whistle-clean":
As a fan of sharp razors and clean whistles, I enjoyed The Lookoutâ€”yet I did feel let down by the climax, which ought to have been blunter and messier and crazier and more cathartic. It sounds churlish, I know, but a thriller with a hero like Gordon-Levittâ€™s Chris should be more of an act of sympathetic imagination. The payoff needed to be more brain-damaged.
A writer at Slant (the byline was left off) praises the authenticity of Gordon-Levitt’s performance while finding the heist elements of the film "something of a standard-issue, sub-Elmore Leonard caper." Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly is one of the few who doesn’t like the acting, writing that Gordon-Levitt "comes up with such a moody Method assemblage of twitches, tics, and guilty Memento mannerisms that he’s not much fun to watch." Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE is scornful:
Veteran screenwriter Scott Frank’s directorial coming-out is a bricolage of screen-tested "indie" junk — a "smart, complex" performance from Gordon-Levitt, a beardy Jeff Daniels, exhaustingly competent filmmaking suffused with low-key melancholy — which is to say it risks absolutely nothing, and never threatens to be unexpected.
And Armond White at the New York Press is more so, sighing that "The Lookout is so fatuously contrived it is the first movie that actually made me pine for the loss of Robert Altman; fearing weâ€™ll never see real-life observation on the screen again," and adding in typically combative fashion that "[t]t takes a highly naive, cynical performerâ€”or a doltish film criticâ€”to find this nonsense interesting or surprising."
+ "Killer of Sheep": Charles Burnett‘s legendary 1977 student film, a portrait of a family getting by in Watts, finally comes to theaters in a restored 35mm print, and sets the critical community thumbing through its thesauri for appropriate superlatives. "I think the writer and filmmaker Michael Tolkin was right when he said that if ‘Killer of Sheep’ had been made 20 years earlier in Italian, it would be dissected and argued over and memorized in every film-school classroom," muses Andrew O’Hehir at Salon. "But the world Burnett captures on the streets of Watts, circa 1976 — this was his thesis film at UCLA, shot on weekends, over the course of a year, for about $10,000 — is at least as distant to most contemporary viewers as the postwar slums of Rome or Naples." "[T]here is more to neo-realism than formalist gestures; context counts too, and much like the characters in Rosselliniâ€™s ‘Open City,’ Stan and his family are casualties of war," adds Manohla Dargis at the New York Times. "This may be Mr. Burnettâ€™s most radical truth-telling. In ‘Killer of Sheep,’ the charactersâ€™ identities as African-Americans are material and existential givens, while poverty is the equal-opportunity destroyer."
J. Hoberman at the Village Voice digs up the paper’s original coverage of the film, a blurb "filed by a callow part-time third-stringer" (Hoberman himself). He adds:
In retrospect, it can be seen that the two great independent features of the late ’70s were Killer of Sheep and Eraserhead. Perhaps when someone writes the reception history of American independent cinema, it will be explained how and when Killer of Sheepâ€”which had its original screenings at museums and underground showcasesâ€”came to be considered not just a good but a great movie, placed on the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1990.
Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader calls the film "conceivably the best single feature about ghetto life that we have," while David Denby at the New Yorker writes that "the movie itself has the bedraggled eloquence of an old blues record."
At Slant, Ed Gonzalez declares that "What distinguishes Killer of Sheep from films like Do the Right Thing and Clockers is its absence of malice despite its acknowledgment of the oppressive forces of a white capitalist society. Music plays an important role in the film. But while Burnett’s musical choices often address the plight of black people in America, the music is drunk on hope and reinforces the joy of Burnett’s sad images." Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE is reluctant to heap more praise on the film and overraise expectations, "not that it doesn’t deserve it, but because the film’s brilliance is so singular and modest." Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly calls the film "one of those marvels of original moviemaking that keeps hope of artistic independence alive."
[T]he political biases that favor Italian Neorealism (and Iranian films and Army of Shadows) donâ€™t work in favor of African-American filmmakers who dare to claim serious artistry. The life on view in Killer of Sheep can neither be fetishized nor sentimentalized. Itâ€™s a one-of-a-kind, quietly powerful American masterpiece.