directed by Rian Johnson
(Universal, 2005)

Brick, the feature directorial debut of Rian Johnson, turned out to be among the best movies I've seen this year and is now among my favorites.

It can be best described as a hybrid of hardboiled private eye film noir and high school flick. The director is said to have been inspired by the writings of Dashiell Hammett. He wanted to make a private detective movie, but decided to place it in a different setting so as to give it a fresh depiction. It sounds corny in principle, but it manages to work; it is unlike anything else I have seen. I found it gripping and difficult to stop watching.

Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a loner who, after breaking up with his girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) places himself into a self-imposed exile from the rest of his school. That is until he receives a note from Emily asking for help. It seems that, after they broke up, she -- in a misguided attempt to climb the school's social ladder -- began mixing with the wrong crowds. Two days later, Brendan finds her body, and with the help of the resourceful friend, "The Brain" (Matt O'Leary), begins investigating the seedier side of his school to find out who killed her and why.

Brick contains all the trappings of a Raymond Chandler story and it is oddly surreal to see the characters all behaving and talking like characters from Marlowe's world. The film contains little or no profanity (not that I am one to be bothered by it), which gives it a certain power -- particularly in the performance of the Tugger (Noah Fleiss), the enforcer for the wonderfully weaselly Pin (Lukas Haas), a suburban druglord. The Tugger is a poster child for bottled-up rage. He has little to say, but his actions and anger speak for him. Lesser directors would have him mouthing off.

Brick is a refreshing break from the otherwise dull mainstream releases of the summer. I recommend it to all fans of the fiction of Chandler and Hammett, and anyone who feels like something a little different than the norm.

by Stefan Abley
21 October 2006

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