Friday, April 14, 2006


It takes 20 or 30 minutes of Brick to conclude that it's 1.) not a bitter parody like Heathers, 2.) a transplanted melodrama like Cruel Intentions, or 3.) an existential riff like Donnie Darko. The realization comes in a scene where the protagonist has a run-in with a vice-principal played by Shaft star Richard Roundtree, where the dialogue and one-upsmanship is so quick and edgy that you realize this is a high school movie that's tapped into virgin territory.

Virgin territory for a high school movie, but not in film at large. I'm not enough of a movie geek that I've sat down and watched the black-and-white noir classics that are Brick's inspiration. The only film noir I've seen have been homages like The Grifters, L.A. Confidential, and Chinatown. And while Brick is not as great as those movies, the wit and novelty of its high school setting make it as pleasurable.

The plot of the movie unfolds so tightly and convincingly that it wouldn't be right to spoil the fun. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a character named Brendan, who has the hardboiled manners of Chinatown's Jake Gittes and the deductive skills of Encyclopedia Brown. At the start of the movie, his ex-girlfriend Emily finds herself in trouble, and after tapping the advice of his plugged-in sidekick The Brain, Brendan sets to work saving the girl.

This is not as cute as it sounds. I found myself thinking about L.A. Confidential, but also the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple the high school underworld of Twin Peaks. Aside from the hard-boiled, anachronistic, but effective dialogue, the movie doesn't wink. There aren't inside jokes, the cast isn't as pretty as The O.C., and the delivery doesn't come with a whiff of parody.

James Wolcott recently wrote about how audiences and movie reviewers don't often notice high quality performance in movies. People are blinded by celebrity. But this is a movie that wouldn't have been workable without its pitch-perfect performances, particularly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's a long way from Third Rock, but everything about his work here is persuasive. The hard-boiled, slang-filled dialogue rolls off his tongue as smoothly as if he were Humphrey Bogart.

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