Director: Rian Johnson
Distributor: Focus Features
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Nora Zehetner, Emilie de Ravin
Genre: Film Noir
Review Rating: 4.5/5
‘Brick’ is a stylish neo-noir story, which transposes the tropes and archetypes of film noir and to a modern blue-collar high school setting. This is the debut feature from Rian Johnson, who has gone on most notably to direct Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Without giving too much away, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the disillusioned outsider who was once in the game. When the girl he loves Emily (Emilie de Ravin) turns up dead, he makes it his mission to find out the who and the why of it.
With pressure mounting from the authorities, in the form of the Assistant Vice- Principal, played here by Richard Roundtree (better known as Shaft himself) and aided by his only friend in the world, the Brain (Matt O’Leary,) Brendan must submerge himself once more in the seedy social world of the schools ‘upper crust.’
He must insert himself into the world of high school drugs and intrigue featuring femme fatale Laura (Nora Zehetner) and the bruiser Tug (Noah Fleiss,) to find the mysterious source of the drugs, the mysterious figure known as ‘The Pin’ (Lukas Haas) – “They say he’s an older guy, like, 26.” He is driven to find out what happened to the woman he loved and to avenge himself upon those responsible for her death.
With a storyline inspired by the likes of Dashiel Hammet and nods to the hardboiled detective stories of classic film noir, the move to set this story in a generic Californian high school is an inspired choice, the petty rivalries of high school and the distinctive noir slang mesh perfectly with the soundtrack to provide a brooding and oppressive atmosphere.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a superb performance as the voluntary outcast, honour-bound to find out what happened to the lover that spurned him, it is a physical, almost understated performance and his stoic presence centres the film.
The supporting cast is excellent, with Lukas Haas drawing sympathy as he makes the most of his role as ‘The Pin’. In addition to this, the cinematography of regular Rian Johnson collaborator Steve Yedlin maximised the impact of the sets and locations and results in some truly memorable visuals.
The incongruities of the highschool-noir setting, such as the classic sit-down between the protagonists being interrupted by the mother of one of them offering them juice, provides a welcome relief from the hard-boiled tension of the story but is not overused. This leads to a good flow of the story as we are taken deeper into a world that is consistent and gripping.
This is a lean and tightly-plotted film that makes the most of its talented cast and its central concept. I highly recommend this film
Review by Lawrence Gillies