Classic Indie Spotlight on….BRICK

10m BRICK

RATED: R

STARS: JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT, LUKAS HAAS, NORA ZEHETNER, NOAH SEGAN, NOAH FLEISS, EMILIE DE RAVIN, MEGHAN GOOD, MATT O’LEARY, RICHARD ROUNDTREE

DIRECTOR: RIAN JOHNSON

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

To those who might go into this movie unprepared, let me give you a word of advice. Clean out your ears before you leave home, take the time to read the little booklet if your theatre has it or at the very least, to read the poster and the dialogue descriptions therein, then go to the bathroom BEFORE you go in the theatre, and don’t take your eyes off the screen once it starts. If you do, you’ll regret it…because this is the kind of intricately woven plot that you’ll want to know EVERY piece of dialogue and every plot twist without missing ANYTHING…

Brick is a brilliant, auspicious debut for director/writer Rian Johnson. The winner of a special Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, for "Originality of Vision", it is almost instantly clear why it won such an award.

The movie harkens back to the days of film noir classics with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the Humphrey Bogart role, as his character, 16-year-old Brendan Frye, tries to decipher the who, what, where, why, and how of his recently ex-girlfriend Emily’s murder. In doing so, he enters a seamy underworld of high school life, where he’s besieged by drug dealers, thugs, junkies, jocks, drama queens, and even the prerequisite femme fatale in his quest to find out the truth about what happened to his ex and how, and more importantly, why she ended up dead.

Set in a high school somewhere in "The O.C.", the film starts with Brendan having just discovered his ex’s dead body, then flashes back to two days earlier, when she telephoned him asking for his help. He begins to try and find out why, and later, following the discovery of her body, determines to bring the guilty party or parties to justice HIS way. Hooking up with his pal, simply called "Brain", Brendan’s investigation leads him to one discovery after another, stirring up more trouble than even Bogie was used to dealing with.

Riddled with unfamiliar terms and staccato dialogue which is sometimes a little too mumbled to be understood, nevertheless it’s not hard to follow the goings on once you have been watching for the first ten minutes or so, because by that time you’ve been totally mesmerized by what’s showing on the screen. And every scene brings a new plot twist to the forefront, and believe me, there are some real doozys – the big one made about 3/4 of the way through is a stunner – it comes from left field, drops like a bomb, and will have you rethinking all your own guesses about who might have really been the culprit behind Emily’s murder.

Make no mistake about this, though. One thing Brick is NOT is Bugsy Malone. Some people have made a comparison to that 1976 camp classic, and while I agree that the general idea is somewhat similar, that is where the comparison STOPS. Bugsy Malone was MEANT to be a spoof; Brick is ANYTHING but.

One scene in the movie left me wondering if it was made to be played straight or for laughs, but either way, it was absolutely hilarious, and comes across brilliantly. A scene with Richard Roundtree as the high school’s assistant Vice Principal comes off like classic scenes where Bogie, as the private eye, was dealing with the local police chief. He tries to dive into Brendan’s head and force our young gumshoe to work for him as he is working for himself, and the resulting conversation is one of the most engaging scenes in cinema history, as Brendan tries to play his hand down while the Assistant VP thinks he knows a lot more than he really does.

The movie is NOT without one annoying plot hole…one wonders why an obviously brilliant student like Brendan is leading the slacker life and has been for a while before the beginning of the movie, and aside from a brief explanation to the local drug lord, The Pin (brilliantly portrayed by Lukas Haas), while trying to gain his trust, we never really find out what happened to make Brendan so bitter about life.

Gordon-Levitt has come a long way since his days on NBC’s 3rd Rock From The Sun, and he shows off his acting chops in a big way here, since he’s in almost every scene of the movie. He’s learned to channel Bogie with incredible intensity and precision, and hits the mark on every level. An intense and truly outstanding supporting cast of mostly unknowns (the aforementioned Lukas Haas as drug lord The Pin and Emilie De Ravin from ABC’s Lost as dead ex-girlfriend Emily, are probably the best known members of the cast outside of Gordon-Levitt) brings intensity and suspense to nearly every scene.

Judging from the reviews of many movie critics, Brick could be a sleeper hit – one of those rare indie films that ends up earning a wider release thanks to excellent reviews and extremely positive word of mouth. We’ll see.  It certainly deserves it.  And I have a feeling that all of the independent movie award givers will be looking closely at Brick when their next award ceremonies are rolling around.

PRL and I have never been the type to see "indie" films on a regular basis; we’ve always considered that scene a bit too pretentious for our tastes. Brick may have changed that outlook, permanently. As we enter the first full year of Popcorn N Roses, there are a lot more movies left to see this year. And each and every new release is going to have a hard time with me, because I’m inevitably going to end up comparing it to this movie, and most of them will fail.

Brick has entered hallowed territory for myself – it is now on my Top Ten all-time favorite movie list, and is probably destined to stay there for a long while. No matter what comes along, it’s going to take a LOT to give any other movie serious contention.

Don’t miss it, because if you do, you’ll regret it. Because (with my apologies to WWE’s Triple H) Brick is JUST THAT DAMN GOOD.

MY SCORE: FIVE POPCORNS (out of Five)

Originally published on Popcorn N Roses,  April 2006