BRICK is a 2005 neo-noir film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan, a high school loner who ends up investigating the untimely murder of his ex-girlfriend, Emily. The action gets kicked off quickly enough. A phone call. A cry for help. The discovery of a body.
What follows is an intricate web of deception, revenge, drugs, and rivalry all set against the backdrop of maneuvering through high school. None of the characters, not even Brendan, can be classified as completely innocent. Brendan holds to his own code of honor, not truly a criminal, but willing to act outside of the traditional bounds of morality to accomplish his goals. He’s also smart enough to know that it is isn’t the person who pulls the trigger that’s the real villain, but the person who makes sure that the victim is in front of the gun.
Some of what makes BRICK stand out is the slang the movie uses. Sure, it’s manufactured, but it is used in such a consistent manner and so well fits in with the story that’s being told, that it becomes an intricate part of the movie being told. Some viewers might be put off by the language, finding it a barrier to appreciating the rest of the film, but the way it is used it very nearly becomes its own character.
BRICK shows how the noir archetypes can be transported into different settings. You have the independent, driven private investigator in Brendan, the crime boss (who happens to live in his mother’s basement) in the Pin, the enforcer with an agenda of his own in Tugger, and the femme fatale (and arguably the true villain of the movie) in Laura. All of which is layered over the top of a high school setting with the cliques, clubs, and power struggles inherent to that setting. Sure, we never see anyone attend class, but, well, that’s not the point of the movie now, is it?
It is also refreshing to see a guile hero in the character of Brendan, someone who not only fights hard, but also fights smart. He fights dirty, he pits foes against each other, and in the end he’s… well, triumphant might be too strong of a word. But then, given that the girl is already dead and beyond saving, revenge is a close second to redemption.
In addition to a stand out performance by Gordon-Levitt, BRICK also features excellent performances from Noah Fleiss, Nora Zehtner, Lukas Haas, and a very special cameo from Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft).
BRICK also makes an excellent introduction to Rian Johnson who wrote and directed this film. If that name seems familiar, it’s because he is the director behind THE LAST JEDI as well as THE BROTHERS BLOOM and LOOPER. There are worse places to start.