I rarely see a movie twice in theaters; when I do, it indicates the presence of what Led Zeppelin refers to as a “Whole Lotta Love.” These repeat theater experiences are usually for rich, imaginative films: Spirited Away is one, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is another. Both of them are magnificent movies in their own right, and may well get the review treatment someday, but for this edition of The Cinematic Dimension, I'm taking you back to high school. That is, if your high school was San Clemente High School, and you lived in the slick, unbeatable, whip-smart noir world of Brick, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, written and directed by Rian Johnson.
First off, let's continue the ongoing appreciation of how far Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come from his long-haired days on the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. After that goofy show wrapped up in 2001, he made a series of wise career moves by appearing in the grittiest, most serious films he could land (Manic, Mysterious Skin, Shadowboxer, The Lookout, Stop-Loss) before finding happy mediums in the touching 500 Days of Summer and the labyrinthine Inception. It was his work in Manic that brought him to Rian Johnson's attention and landed him the central role of Brendan Frye, a high school student who discovers the body of his ex-girlfriend and is determined to track down her murderer among the seedier members of the high school's close-knit drug community.
Brick is in many ways a contemporary take on classic film noir. Its characters embody traditional roles (detective, ally, old flame, lackey, mastermind, femme fatale) within the frame of a modern high school setting, its soundtrack sports iconic use of piano, guitar, and trumpet as well as made-up instruments using furniture and kitchen utensils, and the writing is roughly 94% slang. This latter quality makes the film particularly fascinating – for instance, here's some dialogue between Brendan, the drug lord known as The Pin, and Tug, the Pin's main bodyguard.
The Pin: So … how about's we take another snap at hearing your tale.
Brendan: I don't know – starts out same as before, and this floor ain't carpeted.
The Pin: We're cooled down.
Brendan: Your muscle seemed plenty cool putting his fist in my head. I want him out.
The Pin: Looky, soldier...
Brendan: The ape blows or I clam.
Tug: So clam! What do you got that can't be out of you back in the basement?
The Pin: …
The Pin: Give us a few minutes, Tug. ... I'll call you if whatever.
Whether the pauses stretch painfully or the air turns hot with spat threats, the actors don't waste a word. Johnson has managed to round up a stellar cast for these roles, and big or small they carry their characters (and their wild dialogue) all the way to the end. And with the exception of Gordon-Levitt, these aren't well-known actors. Fans of Lost will recognize Emilie de Ravin as Brendan's doomed ex-girlfriend; Spy Kids diehards may know Matt O'Leary, Brendan's friend and research man; and it's nice to see Lukas Haas, the ominous “Pin,” grown up since he was the Amish boy from Witness. From these scarcely-known and fleetingly-relevant productions, Johnson's well-rounded ensemble spins timeless cinematic gold.
If the movie delivered on its hearty acting, its distinct soundtrack, its surefire screenplay, and its highly proficient cinematography (right, I forgot the mention: it has fabulous camera work), that would be fine. Groovy. It would just be a really decent mystery movie. But the secret ingredient that sets Brick above the rest is its occasional lightheartedness. Despite high stakes, intense scenes, and interwoven plots, it never takes itself too seriously. I won't spoil any moments for you, but suffice it to say … don't be afraid to laugh while you watch it.
Which you should totally do. As soon as humanly possible. Or at least check out this wicked trailer. While you're at it, chase it with the trailer for Johnson's new film Looper, complete with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and time travel.