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2005 mystery film that takes place in a high school

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A high school noir just as tough as its adult counterparts

  • Jun 23, 2007
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Thinking about high school, it's odd that no "high school noir" films existed prior to the last few years. High school is such a perfect setting for a film noir, and though it may seem ridiculous at first, there's many parallels between the world of a teenager and a character in a 1940s noir, be it the battle between the police and the shamuses and the battle between the administrators and the students or the shady meetings under bridges and the shady meetings in the parking lot after school. In 2004, Rob Thomas' Chandler-esque take on high school hit UPN (and later the CW) as "Veronica Mars," and one year later, "Brick" premiered at Sundance.

While "Veronica Mars" is on the lighter side of noir, "Brick" is a pitch black, gritty piece which recalls Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep," with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The resemblance isn't in the style of director Rian Johnson (which bears a striking similarity to that used by David Lynch in one of his own neo-noir's, 1992's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me"), but in the convoluted script, the conspicuous characters, and particularly the rapidfire, hard-boiled dialogue, delivered at a startling pace by a talented young cast. This includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, best known as the youngest alien explorer from "3rd Rock from the Sun," along with Emilie de Ravin of "Lost," Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, and Richard Roundtree, the original "Shaft." Gordon-Levitt's role is a far cry from his work on "Third Rock." He's cool, quick-witted, and tough, something of a much more contemptuous Sam Spade. Gordon-Levitt is truly excellent, and he shows real promise should he be cast in the right roles. Haas and Fleiss both play their roles quite well, but it's Meagan Good as a scheming drama queen (literally) who commands the most attention.

The film's plot, even at its barest, is quite clearly shaped in the noir mold: Gordon-Levitt's character, a high school student who keeps himself distanced from his classmates, thrusts himself into the cliques in an effort to find out who murdered his ex-girlfriend. His search leads him to the Pin (Haas), a 26-year-old drug kingpin. In one of the film's most memorable scenes, Gordon-Levitt meets with the Pin and his henchman in the kitchen, while the Pin's mother serves them breakfast and apple juice before kissing him goodbye. It's the one scene in "Brick" where writer/director Johnson acknowledges that all our characters are kids, and that the film itself revolves around high school, despite its utterly somber tone.

The rest of the movie is so relentlessly straight-faced and serious that you almost forget it's a film noir about high school. It's classic noir, though. The protagonist loner with a rocky exterior and a noble interior, looking to do the right thing; the suspicious, all-powerful, ominous villain, usually an obsese fifty-year-old businessman but in this case a twenty-something drug dealer living in his basement; the femme fatale, a beautiful seductress with a hidden agenda; even the flirtatious and manipulative female who usually is an actress or waitress or secretary, or something along those lines, but who here is the lead actress in the high school drama club. Much of the film's charm comes from consideration of its many allegories to "adult" noir tales.

The execution of this sort of idea matters so much, because, after all, what is a film noir if not cinema at its most stylish? Johnson is well aware of this, though. It shows not only in the maturity and seasoned approach of his directing, but also in the stimulating photography and, especially, in the stunning editing. It comes as no surprise that the editing, also by Johnson, is so good, since Johnson began his career editing his short film "Evil Demon Goofball from Hell!!!" and then Lucky McKee's popular "May." "Brick" would make an excellent sample film to show young editors, since Johnson - at 29, a young editor himself - has done such a spectacular job, fashioning a seamless flow of jump cuts, point-of-view shots, distorted lenses, and exposed film. Supporting this is an inventive, unorthodox score by Nathan Johnson, comprised of some sort of naiive bells and the woeful trumpet which Jerry Goldsmith used in his music for "Chinatown" and "L.A. Confidential."

It's a pity that "Brick" didn't get more notice. It was unquestionably one of the best films of 2005. I'd even go so far as to call it one of the top films I've ever seen. Viewed as a film from an experienced director, it's a stellar film, but when viewed as Johnson's debut, it's a fantastic achievement. Fortunately, Johnson seems to have received the attention he deserved from this film: his next project stars big-name actors like Rachel Weisz and Adrien Brody. I really hope Gordon-Levitt gets some decent roles, because he proves his acting prowess here. It's films with the originality and effort of "Brick" that keep the industry going, and if you haven't seen it, don't hesitate to leap up and hunt for it like Sam Spade for the maltese falcon.

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More Brick (2005 movie) reviews
review by . February 08, 2012
Wonderful qualities that sink....just like a brick
Film noir has to be one of my favorite genres in the realm of story weaving. As a mixture of crime drama, mystery, German expressionism, thriller, melodrama and even a few drops of horror film noir has had a presence in cinema since the 1940s.  I do not proclaim myself a film noir expert per se, but I have seen plenty of films in this category to be a fair judge of what is good and what is not.  The best analogy I have for this film is being on a date with a woman who is beautiful and …
review by . February 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Here's what the deal is: "I'll have my boys check your tale. Seeing how it stretches, we'll either rub or hire you. You'll know which by the end of the day tomorrow." And, "Drop me off at school."       Brick, an independent movie written and directed by Rian Johnson, is part stunt, part style and part energetic riff on gumshoe movies. Movie references are dropped like names but with more subtlety. It takes place in and around an affluent, …
review by . April 30, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
You think you've got it all figured out when you don't....
Film noir was one of cinemas most popular and most profitable genre or it uses to be back in the last stretch of the golden years in Hollywood (1940-1950). The last neo-noir the golden era pushed out was Orson Welles "Touch of Evil"(1958)   while during its release, it was well received but it sadly failed to reignite the flame of a fading genre. Noir seemed almost dead   until   an up and coming director named Roman Polanski took on the dangerous task of …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
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A great modern film-noir. Joesph Gordon Levitt is Amazing. hard to think thats the kid for 3rd rock from the sun.
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Creative and beautiful! The language is like no other movie I have seen, and I just love it.
Quick Tip by . April 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A potent mix of teen drama and film noir thrown into the modern day setting of a crime filled High school underworld
review by . December 23, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan
In up and coming director Rian Johnson's film Brick, audiences are treated to a truly unique and memorable mystery film. Inspired by the literary work of the great detective novel writer Dashiell Hammett, who is best known as the creator of Sam Spade and The Thin Man, Rian Johnson set out to create a hip, contemporary noir film. While simultaneously following in the footsteps of great mystery writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Johnson succeeds in revitalizing the detective genre …
review by . February 13, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: True indie look and feel, easy to like characters by and large      Cons: The story gets lost more than once, ending is sudden and tacked on.      The Bottom Line: It'd hard to recommend or say avoid.  It is ok and worth considering, beyond that . . . if you like any actor, you will likely not be disappointed.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. I just glanced at the average …
review by . April 13, 2007
"Brick"    Enjoyable and Unique    Amos Lassen and Cinema Pride    While looking for something to watch for the weekend, I came upon "Brick", a very enjoyable film noir set in high school. It is something new and different--a bit over-the-top but very well done. This is not a kind of movie that allows you to sit back and relax as you watch it. It is very dark and sinister and keeps you on the edge of your seat once the action gets moving. …
review by . October 22, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
It's not easy being a teenager. Belonging or not belonging to a clique or gang can bring horrible expectations--ones that aren't easy to fulfill. Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an outsider, the way many outsiders are, but he is different. Brendan is devoted to his love, Emily Kostich, and will do anything to protect her. When she brushes off his love interest, she puts herself in harm's way. She is killed and Brendan finds her washed in a creek near an underground tunnel. From here he becomes …
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Tom Benton ()
Ranked #351
Aspiring high school English teacher with dreams of filmmaking and a strong taste for music.
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About this movie


High school collides with hard-boiled film noir in the twisty, cunningBrick. When he gets a mysterious message from his ex-girlfriend, a high school loner named Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt,Mysterious Skin) starts to dig into a crisscrossed web of drugs and duplicity, eventually getting entwined in the criminal doings of a teenage crime lord known as the Pin (Lukas Haas), his thuggish henchman Tugger (Noah Fleiss,Joe the King), and a mysterious girl named Laura (Nora Zehetner,Fifty Pills).Brickhas not only the seductive, labyrinthine plot of a crime thriller by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) or Raymond Chandler (Farewell, My Lovely) but also a dense high-school version of hard-boiled lingo that's both comic and poetic. The movie unfolds with headlong momentum as Brendan manipulates, fights, and staggers his way through layers of high-school society. Gordon-Levitt is excellent; between this and the equally compellingMysterious Skin, he's left his3rd Rock from the Sundays behind. Also featuring Meagan Good (Waist Deep) and Richard Roundtree (Shaft).--Bret Fetzer
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Director: Rian Johnson
Genre: Drama
Release Date: March 31, 2006
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: August 8, 2006
Runtime: 1hr 57min
Studio: Universal Studios, Focus Features, Rogue Pictures
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