Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emilie de Ravin, Lukas Haas
Director: Rian Johnson
“Brick,” the directorial debut from up-and-coming talent Rian Johnson, is like David Lynch for teens. It features all the classic markings of a quality film noir (dark shadows, red herrings, a detective protagonist and a femme fatale) and plops it smack down in the middle of the unlikeliest of places: high school. Complete with geeky allusions to novels by Raymond Chandler and films like “The Maltese Falcon,” “Brick” is a 110-minute homage to one of the greatest genres in film history. Setting the story in modern day California is also a giant risk that pays off tenfold, and while the ending suffers from some sluggish pacing, there won’t be another film like it all year.
The much underrated Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“3rd Rock From the Sun”) plays Brendan, the reclusive, wise-cracking detective of the tale who, after discovering the dead body of his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin of “Lost” fame), begins an investigation into the mystery of her death. With several suspects under the knife, including a shady drama queen (Meagan Good), a doped-up punk (Noah Segan), and a social butterfly (Nora Zehetner), Brendan looks to the only person he can trust for help, an ubergeek named The Brain (Matt O’Leary) who’s rabid intelligence is summed up quite nicely during his speedy solution of a Rubik’s Cube. And after working his way up the food chain, Brendan finally meets the man on top, a local drug dealer called The Pin (Lukas Haas) who still lives at home, drives around in a minivan like it’s a Rolls Royce, and employs goons-for-hire (including Noah Fleiss). By the way, “he’s older, like 26,” and the only one that will lead him to Emily’s killer.
This is what’s so amusing about Johnson’s script. While the characters in the story act like adults, they still live like kids. A great example of this is The Pin, who sets up shop in his parent’s basement, but when he wants a snack, goes upstairs for milk and cookies. He’s also a closet Tolkien fanatic and thinks the author’s “descriptions of things are really good.” Even Brendan, who spouts out hardboiled lingo with the vocabulary and wit of a seasoned detective, still relies on everyday high school terminology like “brown bag” and “homeroom.” This unconventional mish-mash of genres (film noir and teen angst film) results in hilarious exchanges like the one below, where a meeting between Brendan and the school’s Assistant Vice Principal (played by Richard Roundtree) comes across like a conversation between a police captain and his detective:
Assistant VP: You've helped this office out before.
Brendan: No, I gave you Jerr to see him eaten, not to see you fed.
Assistant VP: Fine. And very well put.
Brendan: Accelerated English, Mrs. Kasprzyk.
Assistant VP: Tough teacher?
Brendan: Tough, but fair.
And while there are plenty of laughs along the way, Johnson is very careful not to steer the project into spoof territory. This is very serious stuff indeed. People die, characters backstab one another, and most importantly, Brendan gets his ass kicked throughout the entire film; so much so that he’s literally coughing up blood towards the end. This is, of course, to be expected from our hero as long as he comes out on top, and when he does, you can’t help but smirk one last time. “Brick” delivers everything you’d expect from a classic noir, including a jazz-infused soundtrack straight out of the 1940s and a leading performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt of Humphrey Bogart proportions. This is film noir at its absolute best, and when it’s all said and done, you won’t remember high school any other way.
The single-disc DVD release of “Brick” doesn’t look like much (and you’d be right to think so), but the few extras that they have managed to sprinkle across the disc are certainly worth checking out. First and foremost is a director commentary by Rian Johnson. The first-time director (who’s joined by several cast/crew members throughout the process) does a wonderful job of explaining just about everything on the making-of the film. Also featured are two short audition tapes for the characters of Laura (Nora Zehetner) and Dode (Noah Segan), and eight deleted/extended scenes (with director introductions) that are all better off wasting away on the cutting room floor.