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Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss, Matt O'Leary, Noah Segan, Meagan Good, Emilie De Ravin, Richard Roundtree, Lukas Haas
Released by: Focus Features

In Short: This postmodern teen noir is tough, bizarre and surprisingly entertaining.

Hard-boiled High School
Noir Takes a Refresher Course in "Brick"
By Duncan Birmingham

When his ex-girlfriend turns up dead, hardened outsider Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) goes private dick and plunges into a seedy underworld to unravel the mystery and find her killer. Of course, this is all between classes at his sunny Southern California high school.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Brick
Meagan Good and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Brick

A feature debut for writer/director Rian Johnson, “Brick” won the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, but unlike so many underwhelming festivals exports, the buzz here is warranted. Johnson transposes the milieu of 30s film noir to modern day high school. Instead of going to pains to make his teenage characters speak in the most up-to-the-minute slang, Johnson writes them throwback dialogue seemingly lifted out of Dashiell Hammett’s oeuvre. In opening scenes, the film feels a bit gimmicky, but instead of wearing thin, the noir angle proves a fresh and astute lens with which to view the pecking orders and double-crosses of a modern high school, which in turn provides a wonderful setting for an updating of this neglected genre.

Having flexed his dramatic chops in last year’s indie “Skin,” Gordon-Levitt carries the lone wolf role well and delivers his anachronistic lingo with aplomb. With the help of his friend The Brain (Matt O’Leary), Brendan must shake down a high school cast of drama club femme fatales, varsity jock thugs and unreliable potheads. The “brick” of the title refers to a brick of heroin that may have played a part in his ex’s death. Brendan’s search eventually leads him to a slippery, club-footed drug dealer named The Pin and a sweetly naïve mother who interrupts “business” to serve apple juice and snacks. As The Pin, Lukas Haas is wonderfully creepy in the kind of role Peter Lorre would have played.

Nora Zehetner in Brick

Johnston’s plot is frustratingly confusing with countless minor characters and many red herrings, but so were the best film noirs. He doesn’t mimic the famous film style or go for camp but instead gives a stylish and fun mash-up that lends a much-needed shot of adrenalin to both the noir and teen genres. “Brick” is gritty treat for anyone who relishes classic film noir or high school, or both.

(Updated 08/30/07 NJ)

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