And you thought your teenage years were bad.
Brick centers around the lonely, probably depressed, Brendan, a teenager who has become completely detached from reality ever since his longtime girlfriend, Emily, broke it off. One day though, Brendan receives a cryptic call from Emily, in which she sounds terrified, babbling about the Brick and the Pin and other things that aren't quite explained just yet. Two days later, he finds her corpse in a storm drain. He immediately takes it upon himself to solve her murder and uncover what she was talking about. Of course, he uncovers much more then he bargained for, as his investigations leads him into the company of various sinister players, and soon, the case is spinning out of control.
Just by reading that, you know that this is a different sort of teenage drama. The plot could easily be confused with any involving sleuths, dames, criminals, and men on the edge, but that's what's so ingenious about Brick. It takes all those elements, and applies them to teenagers. It's a smart story, and one that will hold your interest until the credits roll in the end.
Brendan is played, of course, by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It's probably not the hardest role he's taken, as it's just a regular teenager mixed with, more or less, a gimmick, but, he doesn't treat it that way. He is marvelous as this detached teen. He stays wonderfully true to the films style and tone, is always interesting, and does a great job of handling some of the more ridiculous aspects of the script. Look, we all know teens never talk in this manner, but, Gordon-Levitt's performance will make you believe that they do for a few short hours. He's wonderful.
Since Brendan is the focus of the film, the other, supporting players, are not given as much to do, but, they still do it very well. Nora Zehetner plays the popular girl, Laura. She's a complicated character, and you never really know where she's coming from, even if you immediately know where she's going to end up. As this femme fatale, Zehetner has a blast toying with Brendan and is a delight to watch. Matt O'Leary plays The Brain, aka, the sidekick. He always there for Brendan to bounce ideas off of, and is always willing to help him out in his investigations. It's a small, and largely forgettable role, but O'Leary makes the most of it. Lukas Haas plays the leader of underground drug ring in the school. I won't give you his name, for fear of giving something away. Haas does a fine job playing this enigmatic criminal, and, he's actually kinda funny. It's pretty hysterical seeing this teenager saunter around in a black cloak, wielding a cane, spewing cryptic dialogue. Regardless, he does a good job. Other performances include Noah Fleiss as the conflicted muscle Tug, Noah Segan as the distraught stoner Dode, and Emile de Ravin as the dead girl, Emily.
The performances in this movie could have easily been thrown into the realm of camp and parody, but, all the performers here are more then capable of bringing a realism to their roles. But, the real star here is Gordon-Levitt. He has the most screen time, and commands it. It's really thanks to him that the film works.
Dark. Ominous. Tones
Director/Writer Rian Johnson is a clear lover of films like Chinatown, The Maltese Falcon, Vertigo, and pretty much every other movie in the film noir genre. But, he's not a fanboy. He doesn't mimic the style, he creates an homage to it. He lets his actors play around with the space, does a great job framing everything, and satisfactorily creates a sinister atmosphere. That being said, he is probably the weakest link of the movie, and, I hate to say it, is the reason it's not true masterpiece. The whole hardboiled dialogue, cop on the edge mentality, while ingenious, starts to grate on you and, by the end, feels more like gimmick. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets punched out, like, ten times, and, after awhile, it starts to get old. He is also hamstrung by the conventions of the genre. If you are, at all familiar with how films of this sort work, you'll easily be able to call out the twists and character transformations. The main "villain" is instantly recognizable from the moment the character walks on screen.
That being said, for a freshmen effort, Johnson is still mighty capable as a director and a writer. As I said, he's not a fanboy, so all his noir style choices are not just blatant ripoffs of older movies. He's a very good character director; all the actors here are clearly comfortable with the material, and all do a great job navigating it. Even though his plot is a little undeveloped in places, it is still mightily intriguing and devilishly clever; I was glued to the screen throughout the entire thing.
Brick is pretty damn good! It's not a masterpiece of indie cinema, but it's up there. If I was judging it on Joseph Gordon-Levitt alone, this film is a solid ten out of ten. But, this is the director's first film, and he is clearly still trying to master the ropes. Even so, this a solid piece of detective fiction that you should actively seek out, if only for Gordon-Levitt, because he is spectacular in it!