A few years back there was a strange trend to try to reset classic literature in
a high school setting. There were versions of Shakespeare (
10 THINGS I HATE
ABOUT YOU
), Jane Austen (CLUELESS), Chodoros de Laclos (CRUEL
INTENTIONS
), among  others. Some worked, some didn't. Then the market
shifted and the idea was retired. Well, an intrepid and clearly talented young
filmmaker named Rian Johnson decided to utilize unlikely sources -- detective
novels and
film noir -- and set a story against the backdrop of high school. The
result was
BRICK, a movie that earned a special prize at the 2005 Sundance Film
Festival for originality of vision. To say, the award was deserved is an
understatement.

      Johnson has taken all the trappings of a 1930s novel by Dashiell Hammett or
Raymond Chandler and dropped the story down in contemporary San Clemente,
California. (Prior to the movie, the only thing I ever associated with San Clemente
was Richard Nixon, which come to think of it is appropriate on some level for this
film.)

      After giving a wonderful, underrated performance in 2005's
MYSTERIOUS SKIN, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds another brilliant portrayal
to his gallery. For someone who spent so many years in sitcoms, Gordon-Levitt
has matured into a fascinating screen presence. He carries this movie with
appropriate verve and skill, recalling many of the classic screen gumshoes like
Bogart and Mitchum. He combines a world-weary attitude with street smarts.

      The convoluted plot revolves around the mysterious disappearance of Emily
(Emilie de Ravin), an angelic looking blonde who used to date Brendan
(Gordon-Levitt). Shortly, before she disappeared, she called Brendan and asked
for his help, and he sets out to discover exactly what happened to her. His
investigations lead him into a colorful underworld of drug dealing and other secrets.
Among those who help or hinder his investigation are the
femme fatale Laura
(Nora Zehetner), the hotheaded muscleman Tugger (Noah Fleiss), the druggie
Dode (Noah Segan), and the shadowy pusher known only as The Pin (Lukas Haas).
Brendan infiltrates the gang operated by the Pin and eventually delivers a form
of frontier justice.

      Now, I am aware that the film is modelled on great movies and that it doesn't
quite achieve the ranks of say,
THE MALTESE FALCON or THE BIG SLEEP,
but
BRICK does show a great deal of imagination and inventiveness. I suspect it
will divide audiences, with real fans of film noir being dismissive. But let's take
a minute to step back and realize that the current cinema goer tends not to be
as well versed in history, despite the preponderance of DVDs and cable
channels devote to "classic" film. From my informal surveys, those going out to
movies tend not to have that wide a knowledge. As such,
BRICK may strike
them as something cool and different. It might also spur them to check out one
of those "classics." But even if it doesn't,
BRICK announces the arrival of a
very unique voice in Rian Johnson. For that reason alone, it deserves to be seen.

                
                                      
Rating:                      B
                                      
MPAA Rating:          R for violent and drug content
                                      
Running time:         110 min.


                                       Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room
Brick
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.