Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Setting a film noir in a high school may not sound like the brightest of ideas - one would expect it to put off classic film fans and teenagers alike - yet Brick is something altogether peculiar, more than the sum of its parts, and writer/director Rian Johnson has managed to make the crossover almost perfect.

At first, it's surreal to hear traditional gumshoe-style dialogue emerging from the mouths of teenagers, but this sense of dislocation lasts only a few minutes, after which the viewer is drawn in by what is being said. Every line is beautifully judged (even if a few are inexpertly mumbled) and the characters are drawn with a conviction that exceeds the usual limits of either genre.

Copy picture

The film opens with teenager Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovering the body of his former girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin). Flashing back two days, it examines what remained of their friendship and her last desperate communications with him. De Ravin is a revelation in this role; though she has very little screen time, she conveys an intensity that resonates throughout the rest of the movie. In just these few minutes, she must make the audience, as well as Brendan, fall in love with her, and she pulls it off superbly.

Nothing else packs this kind of emotional punch, but nothing needs to. What follows is the usual cycle of investigations and revelations, violence and danger. Occasional reminders of the age of the protagonists (such as a gang leader's hangers-on being served drinks by his mum) at times shock the viewer into laughter and at others add an extra layer of uneasiness to the increasingly dark story.

Lukas Haas is excellent, as gangster The Pin, combining a real sense of power and threat, with childish vulnerability. It is, ultimately, far more horrific to see these characters suffer than to watch the sort of adult gangster films, which we have all become inured to.

Every good film noir needs a femme fatale and Brick has several, most notably the elegant Laura (Nora Zehetner). In a pitch-perfect performance, Zehetner combines ruthlessness and charm with just the faintest trace of girlishness, which makes her all the more deadly.

Brick is complete in itself, well paced and tightly plotted. Remarkably, it was made on a tiny budget and edited on a home computer, something a casual viewer would never guess at.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed on: 11 May 2006
Share this with others on...
Brick packshot
A teenager investigates the underworld of a local high school.
Amazon link

Read more Brick reviews:

Anton Bitel ****
Darren Amner ****

Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Nora Zehetner, Noah Segan, Noah Fleiss, Emilie de Ravin, Meagan Good, Matt O'Leary

Year: 2005

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: US

Search database: