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Brendan lurks outside the fringes of high school life,
observing coolly, imagining he goes unnoticed. He likes it that way;
he doesn’t have a whole lot of use for his peers. But when his ex-girlfriend
Emily disappears, then calls him out-of-the-blue with a teary plea for
help with some big mess she’s landed in, Brendan finds himself drawn
into things. He can’t help himself; Emily still gets to him, despite
the fact she’s not only broken his heart, but made an active effort to
worm her way into the cool crowd Brendan most disdains. On the phone
now, she’s fuzzy about the details of her dilemma, drops incoherent references
to “tug” and a “brick” and the “pin”; the only thing that comes through
clearly is that she’s in a panic. When their conversation is cut short
with a scream followed by a dead line, Brendan wastes no time in setting
out to find her. The next day, she meets him in person to tell him she’s
changed her mind, doesn’t need or want his help, suggests he scram. But
by this point, Brendan’s razor-sharp mind already has gears a-whirring.
With the occasional help of another high school loner named The Brain,
he launches into an investigation that takes him deep into the bowels
of his suburban SoCal high school’s seedy underworld. Soon he’s grilling
a smoky-seductive drama queen to spill her secrets, deflecting the inquisitions
of the high school vice principal, trading bloody blows with local thugs,
and arranging strategic sit-downs with the town’s oh-so-aged drug kingpin
(“He’s supposed to be old. Like 26.”). Meanwhile, mysterious doe-eyed
rich-girl Laura keeps turning up in his path, offering to help Brendan
get the answers he’s looking for. She’s sexy; she’s intriguing; she’s
not to be trusted. But for the time being, it seems, Brendan needs her,
as he works his way towards uncovering the truth about what’s happened
was a time when someone might have uttered the words “high school
film noir” to describe a movie and my reaction would have been a
lukewarm, Eh. This, of course, would have been before I feel madly
in love with Veronica Mars, a TV show now in its third season that
cleverly co-opts the standard noir elements -- murder, mystery, a
hardboiled detective, sexy-dodgy co-conspirators -- and centers them
in a suburban SoCal high school. So I’m glad Brick came out post-VM;
a few years back, I may well have passed this one over on the video
store shelves. This would have been a shame, because Brick, it turns
out, pulls off a rather amazing feat: it’s both exactly what that
pithy four-word descriptor “high school film noir” would imply, and
totally different from anything you’re likely to have seen before.
Brick not only takes the familiar plot devices and standard characters
of the genre and successfully transposes them to high school life,
it actually gets its teenage good guys and bad guys and femme fatales
to speak in the rat-a-tat rhythm and snappy lingo of noir’s 30s and
40s heyday. It’s very weird and totally stylized; it’s also unexpectedly,
irresistibly delightful to hear such witty lines dropped so nonchalantly
from the mouths of modern day kids. Add in a coolly charismatic performance
by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan -- yes, that kid from Third
Rock from the Sun sure has come a long way -- a campy-creepy and very
amusing Lukas Haas as the local drug lord, plus fabulously moody
atmosphere galore, and you have one of the most original debuts from
a young writer-director that I’ve seen in good long while.—reviewed
by Yee-Fan Sun
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