The Lookout at Cinemalaya is Unintentionally Hilarious
One of the feature-length finalists at this year's Cinemalaya is The Lookout, a crime drama that tells the story of Lester Quiambao, a hired killer out to exact revenge on those who wronged him in his childhood. It's a strong film noir that boldly characterizes its protagonist with more nuance than you might expect. Lester and his romantic interest Travis are played by Andres Vasquez and Jay Garcia, who both deliver sensational performances that reel viewers into their world. There's undeniable chemistry between the two leads, and the film could've been buoyed by the strength of their performances.
However, the film suffers from a lot of missteps. The Lookout relies too much on two narrative elements that should have been left in the past: jarring flashback transitions and exposition through monologue. It also suffers fundamentally, from a seeming lack of direction. Scenes explain basic character points: Lester is out for revenge against those who wronged him, the NBI is looking for the suspect of a recent spate of high-profile killings, while flashbacks show Lester’s traumatic childhood. What The Lookout fails to do, however, is tie these scenes together as something more cohesive than just a simple series of shots. Plot twists and other details suddenly pop up with no seeming explanation and the audience is left feeling that something was lost in the edit.
Nonetheless there is a deep story of struggle in Afi Africa’s The Lookout. Lester is a product of an unkind society, and is forced to fight back. He's known nothing but violence, so he resorts to what is familiar to him in a bid for revenge. This might be the best part of The Lookout: the strong characterization of its protagonist, who's a far cry from the tired and formulaic gay stereotypes that trouble alternative cinema. To the film's merit, Lester is a nuanced character: he lashes out at a society that struck first and he lashes out because he was never taught of any other way. Despite all the hate inside him, he still cares deeply about his family and for Travis.
It's just that these nuances fail to show when they're needed. The characters end up becoming caricatures of themselves, driven astray by overacting, campy editing, and twists that muddle up an already tenuous plot. In the end, you can’t help but laugh at all the wrong cues. Scenes that should have made you indignant became points of comedy, and tense moments take on a lighter air because of their ridiculousness. The final minutes of the film devolve from serious catharsis to a comedic exclamation point, thanks to a scene that just raises more questions than answers, two unnecessary shots lingering on the driver, and more overly theatrical acting.
The Lookout ends up parodying itself instead of offering a serious addition to the genre. And when you consider the hard-boiled action films led by directors like Erik Matti and Brillante Mendoza, filmmaker Afi Africa himself becomes a lookout: a man on the sidelines, not yet ready to take the spotlight.