Written & Directed By .... Rian Johnson
Joseph Gordon-Levitt .... Brendan
Nora Zehetner .... Laura
Lukas Haas .... The Pin
Noah Fleiss .... Tugger
Matt O'Leary .... The Brain
Emilie de Ravin .... Emily
Noah Segan .... Dode
Richard Roundtree .... Assistant V.P. Trueman
Meagan Good .... Kara
Brian J. White .... Brad Bramish (as Brian White)
Touted as an edgy film noir for the high schoolers of today, Brick shows off the fast-paced, slang-filled acting prowess of 3rd Rock from the Sun's Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His character, Brendan, is the hardboiled teen detective: more stonefaced and less bubbly than TV's Veronica Mars, but not so rough-edged (yet) as Dashiell Hammett's detectives in true noir classics The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key. However, after his bullheaded run-ins with the beach city's drug runners and blackmail-ridden dealings with his high school principal, Brendan becomes rougher, despite his tender, confused, downy love for Emily (Emilie de Ravin), his ex-girlfriend. She has gotten mixed up in the drug crowd, and Brendan's goal in his sleuthing is to find out who led her to her death and to seek revenge for her death. He employs his best friend Brain to be his eyes and ears--Brain seems to blend into all the cliques, and he makes connections between and among the different crowds and their stories. He tells Brendan where and when to find whom (and most of these meetings happen at lunch--"They know where I eat lunch" is a common response in this movie). Brendan, then, goes to find "evildoers," meeting fists, guns, drug busts, and, of course, the femme fatale with the flexible associations characteristic of film noir.
In my experience, film noir as a genre is defined by its lack of recognizable, likeable heroes. While I think the dialogue and overall plot of Brick fits the precedent set by other films noir, I believe that Brendan's behavior, stemming from a deep love of Emily, is more Romeo & Juliet than Maltese Falcon. From the start, we are made to align with Brendan and Brain and to dislike The Pin, Tugger, and Dode; in other dime novel movies, there is no clear victor, and everyone's motives are questionable. I like the way Brick works as a whole moving, but I don't like that it pretends to be true film noir with its fast, low dialogue, little back story, and lots of mean, underground characters with no morals. If there's a hero, it's not film noir, and Brendan is decidedly the hero of this movie, even if he doesn't get exactly what he wants (i.e., the love of his life back from the dead). And if the hero does his good deeds for the sake of high school love, the movie is even less film noir and more romantic drama/tragedy. The high schoolers in this movie are kids pretending to be adults, and this is a movie pretending to be mature film noir. The question is whether it's possible to have the hardcore cynical outlook necessary for good film noir in a movie that stars high school students.
However, that doesn't mean I don't recommend Brick. I'm just splitting hairs with definitions. The writers made the plot work splendidly with the dialogue, and the casters chose actors who were perfect for their complex roles. While it might have only been appealing to emo kids, the sly, clever humor, the allusions to classic films noir, and the amazing dialogue make Brick a smart, intriguing, and fulfilling film for viewers who like to think.