Brick written and directed by Rian Johnson, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, and Lukas Haas.
This film is suburban high school noir. Or, more accurately, it’s an old school detective noir set around a west-coast high school in the burbs. Brendan (Gordon-Levitt) is your outsider kid looking to help out an ex-girlfriend, Emily, who promptly disappears and comes up dead. From there, Brendan navigates the interlinking circles of high school social sets and local drug dealers to find the killer and exact some justice.
What’s cool about Brick is the way it hits the film noir/loner detective genre beat for beat, yet still seems fresh. Once you get past the momentary jolt of hearing high school kids talk like outcasts from a David Mamet play, you can really get into it. No wonder the film was winning acclaim at Sundance. Writer/director Johnson shoplifts from and plays homage to great noir offerings from The Maltese Falcon to Chinatown yet doesn’t get too caught up in his own cleverness.
The film has a very effective yet simple score. It’s shot in a style that’s bright and open on one hand, dark and claustrophobic on the other. The transitions are vivid, with repeating elements to help clue you in–just as it should.
And the cast: great performance by Gordon-Levitt (who some will remember as the kid from 3rd Rock) as your teenage Sam Spade/Jack Gittes. He really has the stylings down: tough, clever, sardonic, sensitive–it’s all there. Good show by Zehetner as the femme-fatale, by Haas as the Pin (drugdealing Godfather living in his Mom’s basement). Haas, by the way, was the witness in Witness, and it was killing me how familiar he looked in the movie… Also the guy who plays Tug (Noah Fleiss) is convincing HS drop-out muscle, and Matt O’Leary as the Brain is a trip. Great Cameo by Richard Roundtree as the Assistant Vice Principal/Police Commissioner.
Brick works best when it’s hitting those tried and true noir conventions while grabbing some clever laughs. The humor is quick, and it’s internal and somewhat self-referential, but definitely worth the while. One curious trope: the use of phone booths. They just keep showing up–probably because they’re just so damned useful to this genre for conveying quick info without revealing who might be calling. If you can suspend your disbelief to accept a reality where hardly any of the kids have mobile phones, and no one has text messaging, or myspace/facebook, you can dig this. If you know anything about high schoolers, you know just how seriously they take themselves, and the movie reflects that as well.
So Beemsville recommends seeking Brick out instead of grabbing that latest Sandler/Farrell movie or high gloss slasher film. And if you’re a person who’s down with the noir, don’t miss it.