Brendan (Gordon-Levitt), smart, and knowing, is content to remain an outsider at his Southern Californian high school until the day that his ex-girlfriend (de Ravin) calls him unexpectedly, begs for his help, and then disappears. Brendan is still in love with Emily, a troubled girl with a bit of a drug habit, and becomes obsessed with trying to find out what has happened to her. But to do so he has to do what he has tried for so long to avoid – to get involved.
Enlisting the help of his only real friend, The Brain (O’Leary), and keeping the assistant vice-principal (Rowntree) informed (when he feels like it), Brendan flings himself into the social orbits of rich girl Laura (Norah Zehetner), her jock boyfriend Brad (White), stoner Dode (Segan), and most dangerously, gang leader The Pin (Haas), and his henchman Tugger (Fleiss). All roads lead to The Pin, and Brendan realises that he will need to penetrate the inner circle to find out what happened to Emily – and unearth some secrets along the way.
Brick arrives on our shores trailing clouds of glory and critical acclaim for its clever updating of the hard-boiled noir mystery, and its innovative use of language. American high schools have already proved fertile ground for various updatings (Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and this is no exception. Director Johnson takes the conceit and applies it consistently and wittily to his stylish, fluent film. Where it fell down for me is in the use of slang, which was rather patronisingly glossed in the production notes. Nothing that the characters say is so odd that it can’t be figured out from the context; nor is it that far from everyday slang anyway. Other than this minor oddity, the film’s language has a nice rhythm and isn’t afraid to use long, difficult words like effulgent – has Rian Johnson been watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer, perhaps?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt once again proves that he’s one of the best young actors around. His shuffling, hunched Brendan could not be more different to the charismatic, sexy Neil of Mysterious Skin, but is just as convincing. The remainder of the cast succeed in pulling off what must have sometimes felt like quite unnatural roles – are there really any teenagers as self-possessed as Laura? My favourite character was probably Tugger, who desperately needs to go to anger management classes. Noah Fleiss manages to express frustrated rage with every line of his body.
Brick takes itself very seriously, and the characters play it absolutely straight. But in the end it fails because, unlike other high school movies, it attempts to deal with adult themes in the scary real world – and the gap between the 1940s source material and the 2006 setting becomes too wide. Why are there never any adults involved? Why do none of the kids own a mobile phone? It all winds up being a little too contrived, a little too bizarre, a little too precious; a stylish, interesting experiment, but difficult to care about – the kind of film that has cult classic written all over it, in fact. Though I do love the fact that The Pin still lives with his mum.
Last modified on