Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Nora Zehetner, Noah Segan, Noah Fleiss, Emilie de Ravin, Meagan Good
Directed by: Rian Johnson
I’d never heard of this movie until it was mentioned here, and thought it sounded interesting, but never found my way to a video store to rent it. Then it kept popping up in best of 2006 lists, and I decided that I should check it out. If for nothing else, this is why I like reading year end lists, to get one last reminder of things that may have slipped past me in the year.
Having done so, I must now pass along the message to everyone reading this that may have not heard of the movie: see it. Written and directed by newcomer Rian Johnson, Brick is an attempt to tell a modern noir tale, set in a Californian high school. The movie follows Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the detective of the piece (albeit not officially, he doesn’t do it for a living or anything), a loner whose pursuit in the film is spurred on when his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) frantically reaches out to him for help with trouble she is messed up in. When she goes missing, Brendan decides to doggedly follow the few clues she left with the help of his friend Brain (Matt O’Leary), getting deeper entangled into the seedy underbelly of the high school cliques and drug scene.
The modern noir twist of the film gives the movie its distinct feel, with the characters all talking in the snappy patterns traditional to the genre. The movie doesn’t try to explain the dialogue at all, its just the conceit of the film and if viewers don’t like it, they’re not going to like the movie. Lindell isn’t trying for realism here, he’s going for style, and it permeates through everything the movie does, from the dialogue, plotting, blocking, and most especially his fantastic direction and Steve Yedlin‘s cinematography.
It’s the sort of thing that could get old really quickly if the film didn’t accomplish its goals so effectively. Having teenagers slouch and sneer their way through dimly-lit scenes, belting out snappy and choppy dialogue to mysterious femme fatales could easily become too precious to sustain, but luckily, Lindell manages to fill his exercise in style with enough substance to make it work. Beyond the noir-trappings, the story is truly gripping, building in intensity until you’re on the edge of your seat as the climax plays out. I was as excited by movie’s action as I was impressed by the film’s inventiveness.
Credit must be given to the young cast who make it all work, particularly Gordon-Levitt, who doesn’t resemble his goofy character from 3rd Rock from the Sun at all here, instead giving a searing intensity to his role, with a perfect blend of arrogance, menace, and vulnerability to make him a potential leading man. It’s one of the best performances of the year, in one of the best surprises of the year.