Rather pokey in spots, its score obtrusive, tentatively pessimistic ending patting itself on the bank; yet The Lookout is blessed with three of this year's best performances: by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, and Matthew Goode. Earlier this year I cited a Slate article that delineated the subtle ways in which Gordon-Levitt uses silence and stillness in place of the Method mannerisms that lots of his peers think guarantees realism (the River Phoenix of Dogfight and My Own Private Idaho approvingly cited the Method in interviews, but his performances in these films are precursors to what Gordon-Levitt's achieved in Mysterious Skin, Brick, and here). His concentration provides a stable ground on which Jeff Daniels can stink like two-week-old ham and triumph anyway, and Matthew Goode, summoning the prissy murmured vitrol of Richard Widmark, can create the most convincing loser-cum-villain seen in recent months. Just ignore the double-crosses in the second half that doubtless sold the first's realism. When John Dahl's your idol, Raoul Walsh's face is as deadly to the human sight as Jehovah's.
For all that, the film's most violent scene is a Thanksgiving dinner at which Gordon-Levitt's family has to pretend that he's not a ruined husk. Writer-director Scott Frank's touch is sure: he doesn't use the WASP setting for smug laughs; the casting of Bruce McGill -- a journeyman supporting actor as strong in My Cousin Vinny as he is in The Insider -- as Gordon-Levitt's father helps. As Frank sees it, good-natured ribbing has rarely curdled so quickly into unpleasantness.