Superb, noir-ish, Chandler-esque detective story. Set in high school. Nominally. Look, just watch it, it's fabulous.

Released in 2005, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 29 May 2006 by Scott Morris
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There's a central conceit you must buy into if you're going to get the most out of Brick, and that is that your average American high school could contain members of an underworld drug dealing syndicate. Well, wait, that sounds too reasonable. Rather that an your average American high school could contain characters that speak as though they walked in from a 40's Raymond Chandler novel and display all the nous and world weary cynicism of a hard boiled private dick. Yeah, that sounds a bit more out landish. Even then, the beauty of Brick is that you don't even have to buy into that conceit, because it fades away completely apart from two or three scenes that are the cinematic equivalent of a knowing wink at the camera, which is great, because it means everyone can love this film as much as I do. I realise this perhaps isn't the clearest arbitrary selection of word to tumble from this NetMouth™, but I tend to get somewhat incoherent when excited, especially when it's been a hell of a long time since I've been excited by a film.

Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) receives an unexpected and intriguingly minimalist note in his locker with a time and location on it. Heading to what turns out to be a phone booth he receives a call from an ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), a lass who seems to have vanished over the past few weeks, clearly in some distress. She babbles briefly about how she's messed up and something about a brick, before being spooked by something and hanging up. Concerned, Brendan decides to roll up his sleeves and wade into the murky side of town society, aided by The Brain (Matt O'Leary)'s largely off-camera investigations.

The trail leads through the upper strata of high school society down to the lowliest weed dealers all pointing at the involvement of The Pin (Lukas Haas), the local kingpin (hence name, naturally) of the drug distribution business and general scaremaking boogeyman. With the femme fatale Laura (Nora Zehetner) seemingly involved in this seedy affair, the only thing to do is shake it up a little and see what falls.

None of which, as I am excruciatingly aware of, really makes Brick sound like the must-see film I'm trying to tell you in my own 'unique' fashion. What's separates this film from, well, almost everything seen in a cinema over the last two years, is a certain sense of style, a love of cinema and a bunch of lead performances displaying a sense of maturity and skill that you've no right to expect of anyone the low side of thirty.

Brick image

If there's a more captivatingly shot film made, certainly from Stateside or Western cinema generally in the last, ooh, decade, I will happily go to the nearest milliner and purchase a hat for the express purpose of eating. It's almost a privilege to watch this film. There's never a cinematographically dull moment, with every scene being at least interesting and frequently rather beautiful in ways that pay homage to practically every genre under the sun at some point or another but particularly noir. Cinematographer Steven Yedlin, ex-school chum of director Rian Johnson outdoes himself on a scene by scene basis and it's an absolute joy to behold from that standpoint alone. In fact, had the rest of the film turned out to be a stinking pile of fetid dog corpses I'd still have recommended watching this film because it looks so damn distinctive, and so damn good.

However, fetid dog corpses this is not. Hmm. I think I've just worked out why we never get used for poster quotes. Anyway, the narrative is every bit as intriguing as the way it's shot, and while it might well owe a shade too much of a debt to its reference points, it's unlikely to present any problems to all but the most curmudgeonly. It's gripping, completely and absolutely, and for once presents situations in which adding twists does not appear as a last minute bolt-on to the script in hopes of appearing trendy.

For a young director with a very young cast of largely untested quantities, Rian Johnson has performed a minor miracle. There's simply not a bad turn present, with ex-3rd Rock From The Sun star Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing what, in the business, is referred to as an absolute blinder. Okay, in the football commentary business it'd be described as an absolute blinder. How about a consummate, commanding and [note to sub-ed: find another positive adjective beginning with 'c'. Can only think of 'carminative' for some reason, and 'a medicine to remedy colic and flatulence' is neither accurate nor appropriate]? Providing a superb hook from which to hang the rest of the film, other cast members bounce off his cutting demeanour, delivering dialogue from a script so sharp it draws blood.

Look, if I haven't convinced you to see this film by now there's little point in going on, or any point in me writing about films any more for that matter. In an age of disappointing, dreary or just plain diabolical film-making, and especially in a year that looks set to beat out 2005 as 'Worst Year For Film In Living Memory', Brick is a rare, succulent treat. If you're lucky enough to be part of the world where you can get to a cinema to see this run there forthwith, otherwise place it directly at the top of your DVD list. This is about as exciting, innovative, and technically beautiful as cinema gets. Brilliant.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 5/5 TippyMarks.

Rian Johnson
Cast list:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brendan)
Nora Zehetner (Laura)
Lukas Haas (The Pin)
Noah Fleiss (Tugger)
Matt O'Leary (The Brain)
Emilie de Ravin (Emily)
Noah Segan (Dode)