Saturday, February 25, 2012


Director Rian Johnson's film Brick represents the kind of stylistic mash-up which always attracts my eye. In this case, a high-school teen drama is blended with film noir private eye grit. The story centers around the protagonist, Brendan (played with pathos by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) trying to discover what happened to his ex-girlfriend after she became involved in the criminal underworld sheltered by the sun-soaked California high-school backdrop.

What makes the film especially interesting is that the characters behave in a manner more fitting of a Dashiel Hammet novel. The lingo is that of traditional film noir (the police are called "bulls" after the old british cop-nickname "John Bull"), the women are gorgeous and deadly (especially Nora Zehetner who first appears in full flapper dress at a 1920s-themed party), the protagonist is hard-boiled (Brendan endures punishment which would make J.J. Gittes cry) and the stakes are high (stabbings, drugs, and entire criminal empires unfold before your eyes).

But while all the trappings of classic noir are present, the film's high school setting intrudes on the action in interesting ways. Rather than asking who his ex has been going to bars with, he inquires what table she's been eating lunch at. Rather than dealing with a police captain berating his reckless style, Brendan has to deal with a meddling vice-principal.

The blend of noir grit and highschool sheen is always pulled off in an entrancing manner. The plot is devious and the acting is skillful. It shouldn't work so well, but it does. Any lover of the detective genre will find a lot to enjoy in this film. So will fans of genre mash-ups.

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