Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A contradiction but it works: A clever, deadpan noir about teenagers, led by the excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 26 Mar 2009
This review is from: Brick [DVD] (DVD)
Here's what the deal is: "I'll have my boys check your tale. Seeing how it stretches, we'll either rub or hire you. You'll know which by the end of the day tomorrow." And, "Drop me off at school."

Brick, an independent movie written and directed by Rian Johnson, is part stunt, part style and part energetic riff on gumshoe movies. Movie references are dropped like names but with more subtlety. It takes place in and around an affluent, sunny Southern California high school populated by the usual prom queens, rockers, vamps, brains, thugs and drug dealers. This is a Thirties gangster movie with all the clichés, played straight but with almost everyone a teen. You have to keep asking yourself, is this just a parody? Well, not exactly. It's...it's...it's part stunt, part style and part energetic riff on gumshoe movies. Rian Johnson, who graduated from USC's School of Cinema-Television in 1996, knows what he's doing. The tough acting is deadpan; the dialogue is quick, clever and loaded with jargon; things are said so quickly you'd better keep track of context.

What could have been just another tiresome melodrama of teen angst turns into a sort-of-serious crackpot tribute to old gangster movies. It works so well not just because Johnson is unusually gifted and slightly off the wall, but because of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays the tough-talking, resourceful and relentless Brendan Frye. He may be a teen, but Brendan also is Sam Spade, George Raft, the Continental Op, you name it. This particular homage covers a lot of Thirties ground. It all starts when Brendan, a classic high school loner, finds his former girl friend he still has feelings for is in trouble. She calls him and pleads for help. The next thing, she's killed running from Brendan and into a dark drainage pipe. Brendan's smart but not one for school rules or social niceties. He starts asking around and gets beaten up. He is determined to find out why Emily was killed and do justice to those responsible. His only ally is The Brain, a super nerd and friend who knows a lot and sometimes can link unexpected dots. Soon we meet Laura, a high school femme fatale who can afford excellent manicures; Kara, a drama queen who seems to have no heart and a fondness for manipulation; Dode, a high school greaser with a shiny pompadour who dresses in black and says, gee, I loved her, too; and Tug, a blonde muscle boy who combines the build and the temperament of an enthusiastic steroid aficionado. Tug's rages should be avoided. Brendan doesn't. Lurking behind Brendan's search for the "why" of Emily's death is The Pin (Lukas Haas), a young man about 26 who wears a black cape and uses a cane. He admires the Hobbit books. The Pin knows heroin pays a lot better than a community college Associate of Arts degree. The Pin has a basement office with cheap paneling and a mom who obliviously serves homemade cookies and apple juice to Brendan just after Tug, on The Pin's order, does a number on Brendan's face. Mom is a friendly sort without a clue to her son's activities. Her cookies look really good. I think they were raisin oatmeal.

When Brendan figures things out and forces a violent, nasty, clever showdown, a lot of bad guys pay the price, with a betrayal Brendan will never forgive. For Brendan? Well, Emily will always have a place in his heart.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages all this with complete assurance. He never winks at the audience. Those who saw him in The Lookout (2007) know just how fine and authentic an actor he is. As part of the generation now closing in on Pitt, DiCaprio and the like, Gordon-Levitt, if he isn't seduced by Hollywood's obsession with action heroes and the associated fame and cash, should find himself with a great reputation as an actor, not just one more dime-a-dozen superstar.

Brick is odd, clever, fast and coherent. Sure, it's something of a stunt. If you don't mind sometimes smiling along with your favorite movie genre, you'll probably like it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a bang-up job. He may wear glasses but he never carries a gat.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Apr 2010 10:01:54 BDT
Eileen Shaw says:
Very perceptive review. Most of my friends just didn't get it - a sad reflection on modern filmic sensibilities.
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C. O. DeRiemer
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Location: San Antonio, Texas, USA

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