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BRICK

Director: Rian Johnson

U.S.A.| 2005. COLOUR. DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO. 110 MIN.


A hard-boiled, Dashiell Hammett-style detective movie set in a modern South California high school and peopled by teenage equivalents of classic film noir archetypes. Not convinced? The Sundance Film Festival jury were, awarding writer-director Rian Johnson’s precocious debut feature a Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision. Avoiding both lazy pastiche and post-modern irony, Brick opens with the discovery of a teenage girl’s corpse in a storm drain, then spirals downward into the murky, dangerous depths of adolescent drug-taking and dealing.

The teen movie staples of fragile self esteem, peer group pressure and spiteful cliques take on a harder edge, as fast-talking student Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) investigates his ex-girlfriend’s mysterious death. With the help of his nerdy pal Brains, Brendan tries to keep the school’s assistant vice principal (Richard Roundtree) in the loop, while figuring all the angles, punching above his weight, and spouting reams of smart tough-guy dialogue. Like Hammett’s Sam Spade in ‘The Maltese Falcon’, Brendan has no idea who he can trust; but he has more brains and guts than the other players in this seedy drama: the spoiled rich girl, the vulnerable heavy, the twitchy hop-head, the seductive femme fatale—even the scary, enigmatic drug-dealer, The Pin (Lukas Haas).

As the perplexing plot coils tighter and tighter, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s restless energy and compelling intelligence rivet our attention. It takes a while to tune into the rhythm of the quick-fire hard-boiled slang, but if you enjoyed the bleak, existential vision of ’40s and ’50s crime movies, you will also appreciate Johnson’s ambitious contemporary riff on that much-loved cinematic genre.—Nigel Floyd.

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