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USA 2005
Directed by
Rian Johnson
110 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars


Synopsis: Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an outsider at his school. When his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) calls him in a panic, then turns up murdered, Brendan turns his piercing intelligence and determination to uncovering the truth of what happened...

"Throw one at me if you want, hash head. I've got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you."

If I see a better film this year, you won't be able to wipe the smile off my face. Brick is one of those rare films so utterly original and perfect that many a good film pales in comparison. It's a hardboiled detective thriller set in a high school. And it's not being played for laughs. It takes every convention of the detective thriller and makes it fresh and new by transplanting it, body and soul, into a new location. And by using the social milieu of high school, the film creates moments when the reality it inhabits is thoroughly disturbing, and familiar.

Brendan is an outsider and a troublemaker. He's tough, wise to the ways of the school, but never fully aware of everything that goes on. For that he's got his best friend, The Brain (Matt O'Leary) who somehow manages to get him all the information he needs when he needs it. A while ago Brendan helped the school out by nabbing his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend over some drugs. He's never gotten over Emily and is obsessed with protecting her from all harm, and the fact that she comes to him for help seems to give him hope that he can re-unite with her. But then she's murdered and his obsessive love for her will cause him to tear down and destroy everything in his path to learn who was responsible and to punish them. As he delves in deeper and deeper, he works his way through the various cliques in the school, deadheads, sports jocks and rich kids, including the femme fatale Laura (Nora Zehetner) who leads him to The Pin (Lukas Haas). A semi-mythical figure, he's older, maybe 26, not a student. He's the drug connection to all the schools in the area. And once Brendan reaches The Pin, things get really complicated.

Writer/director Rian Johnson has created an entire world for this film. There's the incredibly mannered form of speech that both references old detective thrillers like The Big Sleep and Double Indemnity while also commenting on the tendency of teenagers to create their own dialects. Then there's the whole issue of the kids trying to keep their (for the most part absent) parents at bay while engaging in their "adult" lives. Sure it's not school like you experienced, but it's not so far removed that you wouldn't believe it either.

The film oozes style. Visually it's always interesting and the minimalist sound design works to unnerving effect. There's an amazing chase through the breezeways of the school driven only by the sound of feet pounding on concrete. It's tense, exciting and its resolution brings the importance of sound to the forefront. Performances are uniformly convincing from the young cast. And Brick only confirms what I call the Joseph Gordon-Levitt rule. That is, any film he's in is worth seeing. Noah Fleiss as Tugger also deserves special mention. His barely suppressed violence as The Pin's right hand man creates a terrifying presence, volatile and unpredictable. It's almost comical, but then someone gets hurt and you stop laughing. He's deadly.

The story is continually twisting and turning, you're never sure where it's going to go next. And the final moments of the film pay everything off in classic noir fashion - failure through success. And that is what makes the film so impressive. Not only does it constantly entertain and impress with its inventiveness, it has a point. As Brendan is faced with the facts of who he is, what he has done, and what that has cost those he loved, we're left with an ending that is as memorable and devastating as that of Chinatown.




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