starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Nora Zehetner, Laura Dannon
written and directed by Rian Johnson
by Walter Chaw Brick is a cult classic-in-the-making and one for which I harbour a goodly amount of affection. (I should say I admire its chutzpah, if not its ultimate success.) It's an experiment in screenwriting and matching shots, a gimmick stretched to feature-length by first-time hyphenate Rian Johnson that puts Raymond Chandler's hardboiled lexicon into the mouths of disconsolate teens seething at a high school somewhere in the twenty-first century. It would've been a fantastic noir except for that displacement, as its coolness decomposes every time the film contorts into an unnatural posture to honour its trick, nifty as it is. Consider femme fatale Laura (neo-Winnie Cooper Nora Zehetner): When she finally, inevitably, seduces our gumshoe, Frye (the always-marvy Joseph Gordon-Levitt), for instance, it's hard to know whether they've slept together or just made out on someone's parents' bed. It matters. There's an inevitable infantilizing that goes hand-in-hand with the premise, which can be used to either its benefit (as when Kingpin's (Lukas Haas) mother fusses about like Scorsese's mom has a tendency to do in her son's pictures), or, as is more usual, its detriment (see: a ridiculously awkward meeting with the school's Vice Principal (Richard Roundtree)). As straight noir, Brick would be an easy project to get behind, as it's post-modern and rejuvenating in the most respectful sense (more Sin City than Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid). But to set it in a high-school milieu, no matter the accomplishments of its cast (uniformly excellent), makes the whole production seem smug and, ultimately, just a little bit silly. A shame I didn't catch this about 15 years ago. Originally published: November 17, 2005.