Crime, Noir, Mystery, Suspense, Murder... HIGH SCHOOL!
The problem is, in spite of the phone call, it appears that sweet Emily might not really want Brendan's help, however much she might need it. Emily's involved in some pretty nefarious stuff, as Brendan soon finds out as he traverses the dark gray underworld that he and his contemporaries inhabit. Make no mistake, Brick is one super-intense Noir Detective film from head to toe, and manages to stand up to the best of the genre with its gritty portrayals, idiomatic writing (by Rian Johnson, who also directed) and a disarming, jazzy score by Nathan Johnson.
The thing that separates Brick from similar films is that Brick's plot surrounds a High School and its characters are primarily high school kids. And it works. This is no watered-down Beverly Hills 90210 or Ken and Barbie flick. This is as dark as it gets, packed with surreal imagery, shocking mayhem, drugs, sex and violence.
How surreal is it? Very. Lukas Haas plays The Pin, a local crime boss. He's about seventeen and rides around in the back of a brightly colored van, with a chauffeur and a lighted table lamp rocking along next to him. Noah Fleiss is "Tug", AKA "Tugger", The Pin's hired muscle, who is slowly developing a mind of his own, if not the means to use it. Meagan Good is Kara, the (literal) Drama Queen of the school who is as knowledgeable as she is cryptic as she is beautiful. Her lapdog is Noah Segan's Dode who either knows something Kara doesn't or is being led around by more than one leash. There's the uber-jock hothead, represented by Brian J. White's Brad Bramish, who may be the ring leader of all this, or just a patsy. Then there's the only person Brendan is sure he can trust, a behind-the-scenes expert on everything known simply as "The Brain" (played by Matt O'Leary). On the other side of Kara's coin is the talented socialite, Nora Zehetner's Laura who leads Brendan down a dark path and becomes his thread throughout these disparate worlds. If that's not surreal enough for you, the only real authority here is represented by the Assistant Vice Principal (abbreviated "VP") named Gary Trueman and played by Richard Roundtree! And I tell you he's one bad motha...
Might I say that's rather surreal? Might I add, you haven't heard the half of it yet. Brendan soon finds that out of all of these folks, only he truly loves "Em", and if he's to find her, he's going to have to put up with any form of punishment to get to his goal. Gordon-Levitt is beaten up about seventy-seven times or so, he's attacked with knives, almost run down, imprisoned in a basement, locked in a trunk and all kinds of other refinements. And he gets the relative easy end of the violence. Once he infiltrates the mob, things keep getting weirder, including, but not limited to his being served Corn Flakes and Apple Juice by The Pin's Mommy (Reedy Gibbs)!
But is all this punishment worth it? Is getting in this deep worth it? Could Emily's disappearance (or worse) be the main plot or a mere byproduct of a larger, much more frightening plot? It all pans out to one hell of a finish that requires both intelligence and patience to get to.
Rian Johnson is fascinating in his direction. He offers up interesting camera cuts and a smart juxtaposition of character in compliment to his weird and thrilling script. He seems to know how surreal this mystery is and embraces it without ever pushing to far into Farce. He also seems to take his work seriously, always allowing for the fact that this is set during High School to be an asset, not something to be overcome. He seems to know just when to give the audience clues and just when to hide them away. Unfortunately, he also cut the closest thing to a Nude Scene from the final film.
The acting here is all around fantastic, especially coming from Joseph and Nora. It takes strong actors to pull this off, and Johnson has them in a full deck. Never once does a single moment come off as implausible or unrealistic. It's a tight, if depressing, mystery that holds tight and won't let go of the old imagination.
Brick is also clearly not for everyone. Many might simply not get it, or, equally bad, be bored by it. Brick is paced. Sometimes morbidly so. The audience might not unanimously be able to follow this one in the slow parts. Woe to they who don't. There is no question that Brick is not perfect, but Brick is damned good and holds its own well with the best!
Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Brick, the neo-noir thriller, surprisingly set and entrancingly directed. It evolves nicely and manages to keep all its multiple facets shining brightly. It's also one more reason to note that... Emilie De Ravin is a Jinx. See you in the NEXT reel!
I guess you know whose it is!
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