Veteran screenwriter Scott Frank's directing debut is a low-key thriller with a pitch-dark, bone-crackingly dry sense of humor that never detracts from the sharply etched relationships binding its deeply damaged characters.
Four years ago, Kansas City golden boy Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had it all: A wealthy family, a beautiful girlfriend (Laura Vandervoort), success as a high-school hockey player, and a future limited only by his own imagination and ambition. And then everything changed in a single reckless instant: Chris was left with permanent neurological damage. His life is now defined by his job — a night janitor at a small bank — and the dingy, low-rent Kansas City apartment he shares with blind telemarketer Lewis (Jeff Daniels), whom he met in rehabilitation class. Though Chris no longer has seizures, he's often disoriented, can't always control his impulses or short-term memory — he jots important names and thoughts in the small notebook he always carries — and has trouble corralling his wayward memories, desires and intentions into logical cause-and-effect sequences, instead often getting stuck in a moment. Lewis, whose witty putdowns and sharp comebacks belie his patient, protective devotion to Chris, suggests a mental trick: Imagine the outcome then work back through the things that have to happen first. Chris' life will eventually depend on that one piece of advice. In the meantime, he's befriended by reptilian former classmate Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), who just happens to wander into Chris' favorite hangout and introduce him to sweet-faced ex-stripper Luvlee (Isla Fisher). She also attended their high school and is thrilled to meet the handsome jock whose every game she watched with adoring eyes. Lewis is suspicious and rightly so: Gary and his brutal cohorts Bone (Greg Dunham), Marty (Morgan Kelly) and Cork (Aaron Berg) are planning a bank heist and have designated Chris their inside man; Chris' seething frustration at baby-stepping through a world that was once his for the taking make him all too easy to manipulate and mislead.
Frank opens the film with a bang, staging a jaw-dropping car accident on a dark country road aswarm with fireflies, then backs off and lets Daniels and Gordon-Levitt shine. The result is a smart, engrossing thriller in which you care as much about the characters as the crime. Written before Frank established himself as an A-list screenwriter, it attracted directors ranging from Sam Mendes to Michael Mann to David Fincher; each would have spun the material differently, but it's hard to imagine a better version than this.
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- Released: 2007
- Rating: R
- Review: Veteran screenwriter Scott Frank's directing debut is a low-key thriller with a pitch-dark, bone-crackingly dry sense of humor that never detracts from the sharply etched relationships binding its deeply damaged characters. Four years ago, Kansas City… (more)