It doesn't take long to notice that Brick is a film that feels entirely fresh and new. It hits you rather suddenly, a few minutes after the movie begins: Why are teenagers talking like they came out of a Dashiell Hammett novel?
That's the rub, folks: Brick, as best as you can describe it, is a postmodern mashup of a '90s teen drug drama and a '30s noir. The setup is quite straightforward: A girl named Emily (Emilie de Ravin) is dead, and her ex-boyfriend Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who apparently can't get enough of the indie scene now) wants to find out what happened. He suspects foul play, and he launches an investigation, much like some renegade gumshoe might do, always evading the watchful eye of the chief. Only here, there's no chief, just a principal (Richard Roundtree, of all people). With the help of a brilliant colleague -- er, classmate -- Brendan starts digging into the underworld, such as it exists in a world of letter jackets and parking lot brawls. (Indeed, for all the talk of highschool, not a single class is actually attended in Brick.)
Brendan's investigation eventually leads him to believe that Emily overdosed, that bad drugs were involved, and that the local drug lord (such as he is) is somehow responsible for this. Soon Brendan is climbing his way up the underworld's corporate ladder as he pushes his way into the gang over the course of a couple of days, primarily by beating up various underlings and/or allowing himself to be beaten up, too. Will justice be served? Well, that all really depends on how cynical you are.
First-time director Rian Johnson has one huge trick up his sleeve, and it's both a blessing and a curse: Everyone in the film speaks in the vocabulary and cadence of a '30s wiseguy or dame. It's a "burg," not a "city." You don't "leave" a party, you "take a powder." It's David Mamet by way of Cameron Crowe.
So, is this just a conceit? Or is it a brilliant way to reinvent a tired genre? Well, Brick is entertaining but it's no A Clockwork Orange, which pioneered linguistic tricks and benefited from a masterpiece novel as its source material. Brick is unfortunately written by Johnson, and some of the dialogue comes off as forced, particularly when it's coming at you rapid fire and the plot is starting to bog down toward the end.
But never mind the chatter, Brick's slightly bigger problem is that it ultimately doesn't offer much of a mystery. There's a dead girl that we don't really care about. A distant hero that we have to struggle to identify with. Investigation "tactics" that aren't much more than beatings alternating with chase sequences. There was room for so much more depth in Brick -- something that's hinted at in its impressive trailer -- but it never really materializes.
And yet, despite the rote plot, Brick still feels vibrant as I remember it. This is a movie with a gimmick, sure, but the (few) people who see it won't be able to stop talking about it. (That may be terribly few indeed: Brick premiered at last year's Sundance and didn't find a distributor until a year later.) It's crafted with an impressive amount of style and chutzpah, and Gordon-Levitt turns in another impressive performance that will go largely unnoticed, again. Also impresive is Nora Zehetner, playing the requisite femme fatale and owning the film in every scene she graces.
Will Johnson go the way of Memento's Chris Nolan, eventually finding his feet in mainstream Hollywood? Or will Brick turn out to be a gimmick without a backbone? It's too soon to say, but I doubt Batman is going to start "showing his heels" instead of simply "walking away."
The DVD includes deleted and extended scenes, a casting featurette, and a full-length commentary.