There is a trend that is popular now to combine two or more film genres. We have horror comedies, comedy-dramas and even sci-fi action flicks. Two genres that I never would imagine coming together are the high school flick and film noir. First of all the typical high school film is based on angst, the characters suffering over whom will be prom queen or make the first string in football. On the other hand film noir is typically more adult in nature. The world is populated by people of disputable moral standards; the setting dark and sinister. To combine these two very different types of films is some undertaking. To make it work would be tantamount to a miracle. Fortunately for serious film enthusiasts miracles do happen; just consider Rian Johnsonís Brick. This is an ambitious that works because of the talent associated with it. Some may complain that setting a noir film in high school is too much of a stretch, that it is too adult a format but letís face it high school aged teens grow up awful fast now.
Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is considered somewhat of an outsider in the California high school he attends. He is smart, not only in the knowledge that is expected of one of his years but also in the ways of many of the counter cultures that pervade the school. While not a part of them Frye is familiar with their fundamental workings. His status as an outside is changed dramatically he receives a panicked phone call from his ex girl friend Emily (Emilie de Ravin). She rambles on about how she didnít know the brick was bad and now Ďthe Piní is on it. Frye knows that this is serious. The Pin (Lukas Haas) is a teen drug lord who rules over the streets of San Clemente with draconian force. If he is involved Emily is in great danger. Soon Emily is missing and Frye slips into private detective mode to solve the mystery and save Emily. Frye turns to a fellow loner, the Brain (Matt O'Leary) for help. The Brain is the type of kid that is plugged in to almost everything. He is able to provide just enough clues so that Frye can begin his investigation. Frye also informs the schoolís assistant vice principle Trueman (Richard Roundtree) of some of the circumstances around the missing student. Frye soon finds himself pulled into a teen world of drugs, violence and murder. Along the way he encounters the usual suspects. There is Kara (Meagan Good) an annoying teen drama queen who rules the theater club and is the fantasy of every freshman boy in the school. The required femme fetale Laura ((Nora Zehetner) is as dangerous as she is slinky, the prettiest girl in school who knows her social standing very well. Of course every noir needs a thug for muscle. Here this part is assumed by Tugger (Noah Fleiss), the Pinís henchman who definitely has a few anger management issues to deal with. Finally Frye meets up with the notorious Pin, a gaunt young man with orthopedic shoes and a cane who runs his heroine empire from his motherís home. Pinís mother (Reedy Gibbs) should know what her son is up to but she is in complete and utter denial. She even offers a snack to Frye after a brutal beating.
What earns a film the right to be designated as a noir film is the style. Brick has the stylistic form down to a tee. Being shot on 35mm film with a budget of under half a million dollars seems to have been more of an advantage then any possible hindrance. The film has that forties feel to it that sets just the right mood through the piece. There are some places where the plot seems to be based on too many coincidences. Instead of being a flaw it works in this modernized film noir world. Part of this genre is the suspension of belief when the hero shows up at the right party at the right time. It worked for Bogart and it works here. The film manages to maintain the narrative though out. The plot is ripe with red herrings and hidden clues that the audience actually has to pay attention to understand. The visual impact is incredible. It is obvious that a lot of thought went into the design of the sets. While they looked like a typical middle class high school you just knew that its halls where potentially as deadly as any back alley in a Marlow flick. A forties noir film would have class distinction based on economic status. Here there are well defined line along the more typical high school structure, slackers, jocks and druggies.
While many of the faces in the cast may be familiar from lighter forms of entertainment, such as television series, this film shows that these young actors have the chops and willingness to take risks successfully. Joseph Gordon-Levitt spent years on ĎThird Rock from the Suní. There he honed his comedy skills but little did many of us know that he was also a very talented dramatic actor. He is perfect here as Frye, a young man that has to solve a murder while fighting his own guilt. Nora Zehetner does very well as the sultry jail bait Laura. She plays her character realistically a girl that wants to grow up know, to be an adult before she really knew what being a kid was all about. Iíve been impressed with the talents of Lukas Haas for years. Since I first saw him in Testament back in 1983 there was talent in this young man. Here he is as creepy as Sydney Greenstreet was at his peak. He plays the Pin as a young man with far too much ill gotten power for his own good. Emilie de Ravin has been a staple of television for years now. From Beastmaster through Roswell to her current role in the hit series Lost she has taken on roles that where unusual. Here she is shown in flashbacks but her scenes give her a chance to show off her talent in this genre.
Universal Studios has hit a home run with the DVD release of this film. While many people may not have seen this in the theaters now they have a chance to enjoy this novel approach to the genre at home. The technical specs may not be up to the blockbusters most people are used to. The 35mm format is a throwback to the classic noir films and is a bit grainy and dark. This works, it sets the mood and brings you into a dark and dangerous world. The Dolby 5.1 audio is full and provides a realistic ambience. The sub woofer comes to life with the fights so that you almost feel every punch. The commentary tracks where enjoyable and showed that the cast and crew where completely dedicated to reviving the noir genre in a new light. There are over twenty minutes of deleted scenes. Most where best left on the editing room floor but it help to show just how important this process is to a workable film. There is also a featurette on the casting process that was very interesting to watch. This is one well worth seeing again and again.