Dir. Rian Johnson. 2005. R. 110mins. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matt O'Leary, Emilie de Ravin, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, Richard Roundtree.
Transplanting the plot and slang of a ’40s film noir to a present-day California high school sounds like a perfectly terrible idea (“Down these mean hallways a senior must go…”), but tyro writer-director Johnson has spun this unpromising premise into razor-sharp, hypnotically engrossing entertainment.
Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin) brings complete conviction to the role of Brendan, a laconic loner who comes out of self-imposed social exile to probe the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend (de Ravin). Aided by a myopic polymath called the Brain (O’Leary), Brendan plunges into ateenage underworld where jocks, stoners, drama-club femmes fatales and cool kids refer to cops as “bulls,” guns as “gats,” etc. His investigation buys Brendan enemies, and also attracts unwanted attention from the hard-boiled vice principal (Roundtree, priceless).
Shrewdly, Johnson refrains from aping the impressionistic black-and-white visual style of classic noir, opting instead for a chilly palette dominated by cool blues and setting most of the action out-of-doors. He keeps closer to the genre’s venerable traditions in giving Brick a plot as rococo as Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, a tale whose convolutions not even Chandler could keep track of. But that’s not a demerit: Connecting the dots is for Miss Marple. Noir is a mood, and Brick’s got it in spades.—Cliff Doerksen