Brick is a film noir murder mystery set in the present-day and yet the characters talk and behave like 1940’s-style gangsters.
It may seem a bit unusual to have students speaking in this slang. But it works. Brendan Frye (played by the excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an intelligent, cynical high school student, self-exiled from the cliquish world of jocks, stoners, and socialites.
Brendan is left heart-broken two months after being dumped by his girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), who left him to pursue that world. Until, he receives a frightened phone call from the missing Emily asking for help. Emily mentioned some references to a “Brick” and “the Pin”, which prompts Brendan to investigate.
He does this in the movie detective style of Sam Spade (“The Maltese Falcon“), shaking things up with a relentless directness punctuated by well-timed acts of cunning.
Brendan enlists the aid of the Brain (Matt O’Leary), while keeping the assistant vice principal (Richard Roundtree) only occasionally informed of what quickly becomes a dangerous investigation.
His single-minded unearthing of the students’ secrets thrusts him headlong into the colliding social orbits of rich-girl sophisticate Laura (Nora Zehetner), intimidating Tugger (Noah Fleiss), substance-abusing Dode (Noah Segan), seductive Kara (Meagan Good), jock Brad (Brian J. White) and – most ominously – non-student the Pin (Lukas Haas).
Only by gaining acceptance into the Pin’s closely guarded inner circle of crime and punishment that Brendan will be able to uncover hard truths about himself, Emily and the suspects that he is getting closer to.
Writer and director Rian Johnson pays homage to the wonderful style of noir fiction. The look and feel of Brick fits into the genre despite having a modern contemporary feel.
The dialogue in this movie makes this distinctive and very different to other murder mysteries. Johnson drew heavily from the fiction of Dashiell Hammet (creator of Sam Spade) when writing.
By using this style of language, Johnson has created a list of characters that look extremely cool. Okay, it maybe difficult for the audience to understand but this linguistic style is how the older films used to be like.
Surprisingly, none of the main cast members were familiar with the literary and film sources from which their characters were drawn. This is remarkable, because their characterizations are spot on.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is simply outstanding. He appears in every scene and plays the part so much like Humphrey Bogart. This is impressive as the last time I saw him in a leading role was in the hit TV comedy ‘3rd Rock From The Sun’.
It’s no surprise that Brick won the Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It fully deserves it. Brick provides a unique experience, with fascinating characters, beautiful cinematography and wonderful (if confusing) dialogue.