Review Date: 7/27/2006
Brick presents an extremely intriguing premise: What if a classic detective story, with all of the twists and turns of a film noir movie, were set in a modern day high school? Brick attacks this premise and accomplishes this feat while staying true to its genre from beginning to end. In most films set in high school today, there are stereotypical characters: “the sport o’s, motor heads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteiods, dweebies, dickheads”. More than a few are represented in Brick but they serve the story and are a part of it, they’re not just there for laughs or because they are supposed to be representative of a standard high school student body. The high school in Brick is simply the backdrop for most of the film and none of the characters ever attend class on screen.
They are too busy with the complicated plot of Brick, which revolves the around the ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin) of the film’s main protagonist, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to crack a textbook. Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, a high-schooler still in love with a girl (Ravin) that no longer wants to be with him and who has fallen in with the wrong crowd. One afternoon, Ravin’s character, named Emily, makes a cryptic phone call to Brendan, asking him for his help. Soon afterward, tragedy strikes and Brendan sets out with the help of Brain, played by Matt O’Leary, to right the wrong and find out why the tragedy happened.
Brendan and Brain are friends and by extension, partners in this case and have obviously worked together in this capacity before. Brendan does the leg work, is the stoic muscle and Brain remembers the details and helps put everything together. They are both intelligent people, able to see other people’s angles but its Brain who may be termed as gifted. Vice Principal Trueman, played by Richard Roundtree, lets Brendan skip class while on the case because of the help he has been to the school’s administration in the past. Think of Brendan’s school as a city district and Roundtree is the police chief of it. Nothing is given freely in Brick and Roundtree’s Trueman expects something for Brendan’s temporary clemency. Also residing within the world of Brick is a girl named Laura, with motives all her own, played very effectively by Nora Zehetner, a shadowy crime boss referred to as The Pin, short for Kingpin I assume, played by Lukas Haas and his aspiring muscle and enforcer, Tugger, played by Noah Fleiss.
They and all of the other characters that inhabit Brick speak in classic detective/gangster movie slang. Much like the HBO western series Deadwood, the characters speak in dialogue reflective of their time period, in this case 1930 through 50’s detective movies. Anyone not familiar with these films, frequented by James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, will have a difficult time understanding what characters are saying or what the words they use mean. Director Rian Johnson relies on the intelligence of the viewer in this department and it’s a breath of fresh air. The characters in Brick do not sit around explaining the terms or words they are using as in 1984’s Dune or in television’s Alias. Brick drops you into a film noir world and you have to learn the associated slang along the way. Its not as arduous a task as understanding Shakespearean dialogue but its up there.
Brick is a well written film that possesses all the time honored elements of the very movies its paying homage to. Rian Johnson’s great eye, earlier used in editing 2002’s May, is given full reign behind the camera in Brick and the movie benefits from it. Brick may be the best movie set in high school, discounting Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, that I’ve seen in years.