Brick

If wouldn’t surprise me if Brick was eventually canonized by film geeks as a cult classic in much the same way as Reservoir Dogs and Donnie Darko. Like those movies, Brick demonstrates an aggressively talented filmmaker making his feature directorial debut. Clearly enamored with ’40s-era hardboiled fiction, Rian Johnson cleverly grafts the lingo and tropes of that genre onto a high school setting, building a mystery thriller around the murder of a teenage girl. The girl’s lover–an ostracized student and loner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), still carrying a torch for his dead beloved–determines to investigate. His search leads him into the high school’s drug underworld, and into the clutches of its kingpin (Lukas Haas). More than anything, Brick is just an elaborate noir send-up, and an enjoyably kooky one at that. It’s a funhouse ride in which pubescent characters pop out of the darkness, spouting fermented hardboiled slang. But, ultimately, it’s just an inauthentic and pointless gag; more often than not, we get the feeling of post-modern actors dressing up and approximating noir roles in a high-school milieu: the jaded private dick, the capo, the heavy, the manipulative cop (a fantastic Richard Roundtree, by the way) and, of course, the femme fatale. They’re all here, going through the motions we might find in any of classical Hollywood’s Hammett-Chandler adaptations, but they can’t get their mouths around Johnson’s archaic dialogue. And without the snap and spunk of actors who know how to deliver that old-time verbiage, we’re left with a lot of incomprehensible, marble-mouthed blathering, uttered with tiresome hipster somnolence; the clash of the old and the new just doesn’t light any sparks. Still, Johnson’s connect-the-dots noir script gives him the chance to experiment with atmospherics, which owe a debt as much to Blue Velvet as to The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. When it’s over, though, and Brick’s novelties and stylistics have worn off, we’re still wondering what greater meaning any of this is meant to convey. Like his aforementioned indie-brat forebears, Johnson may be just another filmmaker with the resources to get his rocks off, but with nothing original or of any consequence to actually say.

Grade: B-

Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, Matt O’Leary, Emilie de Ravin, Noah Segan, Richard Roundtree, Meagan Good

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