Saturday, September 9, 2006

Brick

Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emilie de Ravin, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Meagan Good

Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Rating: R


*** (out of ****)
Brick requires the viewer to take a huge leap of faith, just let go and just buy into its unusual premise. At first, I couldn't and it took me an entire second viewing to fully comprehend and appreciate what it was trying to accomplish. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it works quite well. By the time the ending credits rolled I had to at least respect the first time writer-director for trying something different we don't often see in modern films. It also features one award-worthy performance from an up-and-coming actor who's also somewhat of a familiar face. The movie is a hard boiled detective mystery straight out of 1940's film noir, except with this twist: It takes place in a modern southern California high school and the kids talk in 1940's gangster style slang. Think The Maltese Falcon meets Dawson's Creek.
Brendan Frye (Gordon-Levitt) is a teenage loner who receives a mysterious note in his locker from his ex-girlfriend Emily (de Ravin) who's been missing for two months and no one has a clue what happened, or so they claim. He meets her and finds out she's in serious trouble. She's fallen into the wrong crowd and tells him something about a "brick" and the "pin." That's the last time he sees her alive. Two days later she's murdered. With very little to go on, and with help from his trusted source "The Brain" (Matt O' Leary) Brendan steps out of the shadows and has to follow the clues negotiating his way through the different high school cliques to finally find out what really happened to Emily.

The plot, which is intricate and complicated, involves a rich, popular girl, Laura Dannon (Zehetner) who can't be trusted, a bitchy drama queen (Good), and most interesting of all, a local drug lord known simply as "The Pin" (Haas) who operates out of his mother's basement and has a hot-headed thug "Tugger" (Noah Fleiss) do all his dirty work for him. The "brick" of the title refers to a stash of heroin. All of these people are involved in this huge high school crime ring and have connections in one way or another to Emily. They're all hiding something. Brendan's mission is to find out what.

It really does take a couple of viewings to truly understand what everyone's purpose was and how they fit into this jigsaw puzzle of a detective tale. This is not made the least bit easier by the fact that everyone is talking in slang delivering lines like "I've got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you." Huh? In a way though it strangely works because all the actors play this completely straight and convey enough through their emotions that we're never really left in the dark as to what they're saying.

The casting choices in this movie are really interesting as I don't think anyone thought that the kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun had it in him to do something like this. Apparently someone suspected so and I'm glad they did because Gordon-Levitt does things in this movie few actors his age could reasonably be expected to pull off at this point in his career. At first, it's off-putting seeing this scrawny kid with glasses walking around like a brooding mini-Brando beating the hell out of everybody. Yet it's a testament to his abilities that after a while we don't question it at all. He pulls it off, building his reputation as one of the best rising young actors of his generation. I've also never seen a jacket take as much of a beating as his does in this movie. It almost gives it's own performance in the movie.

Lukas Haas is effectively creepy as "The Pin" complete with cane and cape, probably giving his most memorable turn since he played an Amish kid in Witness over twenty years ago. Nora Zehetner (Everwood) is just perfect as the mysterious seductress who definitely knows more than she's letting on. She's not what you would consider conventionally beautiful, but there's something about her that you just can't take your eyes off of. There's a scene in the beginning of the film where she's singing and playing piano at a bizarre high school party that looks like it was lifted out of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. I guarantee you won't be able to look away. She's amazing.

Upon first viewing I thought there were some problems with the film, like the fact the entire situation escalates to absurd heights before the police are even involved. I also thought a scene involving Brendan and the Vice Principal (Richard Roundtree) played kind of ridiculously, but I guess that was inevitable given the movie's commitment to it's central premise. In fact, part of the fun of the movie comes from the fact that there's hardly any adults present anywhere and when they do show up they're presented as completely unaware of anything that's going on. The Pin's mom even serves apple juice and cookies, oblivious to the fact a drug ring is operating out of her house.

The movie was shot in and around where writer and director Johnson went to school giving the film a look of authenticity. It really feels like high school and all these actors are believable as high school students despite the gigantic scope of the story they're involved in. The movie wouldn't work otherwise. Despite the movie's shoestring budget, it's photographed amazingly well and the score is terrific. Also have to say I loved that Velvet Underground song that played over the credits. This is one of the those movies I reluctantly give three stars to now but may later regret it because I have a feeling it will age very well, as it's not easily forgettable. Brick may be built around a gimmick, but it sure is an interesting one.

No comments: