The American high school seems to be the versatile and fertile ground for re-imagining old stories and styles for a new look: Clueless was Emma with Valley speak; 10 Things I Hate about You was The Taming of the Shrew; She’s All That was a low-quality Pygmalion; The Faculty was Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Breakfast Club; Sky High was a rom-com with superheroes; Bring It On was about the empowerment of women in … okay, I can’t defend that one. Still, the mouldability of teens allows for a great variety of storytelling. Which brings us to Brick.
Brick is a hard-boiled noir set in a high school. That’s a ‘high concept’ pitch if ever I heard one, and it could so easily be a disaster. The only way for it to work, and the route that Brick takes, is to go all in and take it seriously. This isn’t a film that winks at the audience or borrows some tropes for the sake of it; this is an archetypal noir story – with a focused, determined central protagonist who gets punched a lot, a Mr Big, a MacGuffin to keep things rolling, a femme fatale and hard-boiled dialogue – that is true to its roots all the way down, even though it is set at school.
Brick stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan, a loner in the world of jock and geek cliques, trying to uncover the mystery of the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, Emily. With the help of his friend, The Brain, he works his way into the employ of the local Mr Big, The Pin, after withstanding a beating from The Pin’s henchman, Tugger. When The Pin and Tugger find out that Emily is dead, things turn bleak …
Rian Johnson has written and directed a great little film. The integrity of the film is maintained throughout, as the noir element pervades every aspect of it, from the story, the characters, the moody and evocative score and the great dialogue, which filters the pulp poetry of Chandler, Hamnet and Thompson into a modern vein without losing meaning or its unique voice. Film magazines were publishing mini-dictionaries to help with the lingo prior to the film coming out, presumably part of the press package, giving the film a distinct flavour. Gordon-Levitt is great as our stubborn, one-track punchbag of a paladin, remaining blinkered on his quest for truth, even when things look dark. A very enjoyable film, and worthy of its Sundance Special Jury prize.