Sharply intelligent high school student Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is concerned when his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin), contacts him by phone with a plea for help and then vanishes. To find her, Brendan enlists the aid of his only true peer, The Brain (Matt O'Leary), while keeping the assistant vice principal (Richard Roundtree) only occasionally informed of what becomes a dangerous investigation. Brendan's single-minded unearthing of students' secrets thrusts him into the colliding orbits of rich-girl sophisticate Laura (Nora Zehetner), intimidating Tugger (Noah Fleiss), substance-abusing Dode (Noah Segan), seductive Kara (Meagan Good), jock Brad (Brian White), and - most ominously - the dark outsider, The Pin (Lukas Haas). It is only by gaining acceptance into The Pin's closely guarded inner circle of crime and punishment that Brendan may uncover hard truths about himself, Emily, and those he suspects of evil deeds.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
We are used to high school kids as the subject of sex comedies, gross, overstated and farcical films with ugly characters hiding in attractive bodies. We are also familiar with sport and slasher films in high school settings, but there are very few films that take what is essentially the film noir medium of the private eye and resettle it in the middle American high school circle. The result is a less than familiar trip to the school precincts, especially when much of the dialogue is so 'in' and the latest patois is used like a code, and we never go near a classroom.
Inventive and well paced as a noir thriller should be, the film nevertheless loses its grip as a result of its impenetrable plot, although if I heard more of the dialogue I may get closer to the details. The big picture is clear enough: Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a somewhat intense character who thinks highly of his intelligence - so much so, he's an outsider. He gets a mysterious note to be at a street junction, where the public phone rings, and it turns out to be his ex girlfriend, who left him three months ago. She makes a sobbing, half understood plea for help before the line goes - symbolically - dead.
Brendan's investigations play like a 50s detective serial, a Sam Spade outing complete with grown up and world weary attitudes, darkly smart quips and shorthand dialogue intended for those in the know. Indeed, media are given production notes which begin with a glossary of some of the words and terms to explain their meaning. Unless you get one of these on the way in, you may find things a bit confusing.
The brick of the title is the central item in the chase, a brick sized block of junk (drugs), and the problem is that somebody cut it with some substance that kills. But this is not the whole story about the missing Emily (Emilie de Ravin) - but let's not spoil the story.
The arch villain doesn't have a name; he's The Pin (Lukas Haas in excellent, quietly malevolent form). The hapless police whom private eyes keep in the dark in such films, is here replaced by the school's assistant vice principal (Richard Roundtree), with whom Brendan plays cat and mouse. This is an unsuccessful transplant and undermines much of the film's core strengths - the mystery of the missing girl, who we know from the opening shot is already dead.
The genre itself is one of my favourites, but I am uninvolved and unmoved by Brick; it's like a teenager dressed in dad's overcoat. Still, it's a well crafted film with (mostly) excellent, naturalistic performances - Joseph Gordon-Levitt (star of the controversial Mysterious Skin) handles the difficult role with an intensity and moody intelligence that James Dean might have brought to the role. But it is not the satisfyingly exciting experience it might have been.
There's an interview with director Rian Johnson on the DVD.
Published December 14, 2006
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BRICK: DVD (M)
CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Luka Haas, Noah Fleiss, Matt O'Leary, Richard Roundtree, Noah Segan, Emilie de Ravin
PRODUCER: Ram Bergman, Mark G. Mathis
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
SCRIPT: Rian Johnson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steve Yedlin
EDITOR: Rian Johnson
MUSIC: Nathan Johnson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jodie Lynn Tillen
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 6, 2006
SPECIAL FEATURES: Interview with director Rian Johnson; trailer
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
DVD RELEASE: October 4, 2006