Film-Forward Review: [BRICK]

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Emily (Emilie de Ravin) & Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Photo: Steve Yedlin

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Directed & Written by: Rian Johnson.
Produced by: Ram Bergman & Mark G. Mathis.
Director of Photography: Steve Yedlin.
Music by: Nathan Johnson.
Released by: Focus.
Country of Origin: USA. 110 min. Rated: R.
With: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Nora Zehetner, Noah Segan, Noah Fleiss, Emilie de Ravin, Meagan Good, Richard Roundtree & Matt O'Leary.

Scruffy-haired Brendan (the subdued and remote Joseph Gordon-Levitt) kneels besides a lifeless blond girl in a concrete irrigation ditch. Having failed to save his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), Brandon must now find her murderer within the violent, druggy underworld of his coastal Southern California enclave, with the usual betrayals, set-ups and double-crosses. But this is not just another dead teenager movie – it’s a high school film noir.

Brick will make you dread high school all over again. Brendan, who is far from his school’s upper crust, speaks, like everyone else, the film’s signature rapid-fire, coded lingo – “I’ve got knives in my eyes…I’m calling in sick.” Even if you can keep up here and there (“brick” means street heroin, by the way), the audience will feel like outcasts, especially since most of the time Gordon-Leavitt mumbles his lines. So you’re either in or you’re out. And like any teenage slang, this will have a short shelf life. (Already Heathers seems to have aged more than its 17 years.)

Even a supposed nerd like Brendan’s confidant, the nerdy Rubik’s Cube whiz kid the Brain (Matt O’Leary), looks impeccably hip with his horn-rimmed glasses and unkempt, but well-coiffed hair. And like every other angst-ridden teenage drama, the one parental figure here is a whacked-out mother, oblivious that her living room has turned into a drug den, and more concerned with serving Tang than who is coming in and out of her home at all hours.

But the deadpan delivery is refreshing in contrast to the melodramatic exchanges – in flashbacks – of Brendan and the doomed Emily breaking up: “I couldn’t handle life with you anymore…I’m in a different world now.” Her histrionics are more like Memoirs of a Geisha than Murder, My Sweet.

With only hints of humor, the somber tone plus the jargon equals pretension. After some sleuthing, Brendan finagles an invitation to an exclusive late night party: a suburban poetry lounge, with cool, rich girl Laura (Nora Zehetner, a Gene Tierney look-alike) stroking the keys to her own spoken word. Imagine the zombie-like private club of Eyes Wide Shut, but strangely without the sexual foreboding. The film is unintentionally reminiscent of the gangster-romp Bugsy Malone (1976), with its baby-faced juvenile cast bringing to life a ‘30s Warner Brothers B movie. In this film, however, the actors are posing in their parts, especially Meagan Good as a scene-chewing drama club diva. Deliberately dialogue driven and obviously low budget (the high school is mysteriously unpopulated), the reverberating sounds effects of Brick’s many fist fights incongruously ring out. But since the dialogue is artificial, why shouldn’t everything else be? Kent Turner
March 31, 2006



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