In his entirely original directorial debut, 'Brick', writer/director Rian Johnson takes the attitudes and dialogue of classic detective fiction, infuses them with adolescent angst, and sets the whole thing in a contemporary southern Californian high school. It's a daring move, especially for an indie film which was made with far more determination than money, but 'Brick's stylised world is engaging enough to see it through.
Super-smart teenager Brendan (Gordon-Levitt) is the school loner and our hero, of sorts. When his troubled ex-girlfriend Emily (De Ravin) reaches out to him with a panicked phone call and then disappears, a lovelorn Brendan sets out on a quest to find her. With few clues - Emily mentioned something about a bad brick, along with the names Frisco, Tug and Pin - he enlists the assistance of Rubik's Cube expert and enigmatic know-it-all The Brain (O'Leary). With more than a few red herrings, the attentions of rich-girl sophisticate Laura (Zehetner), and several beatings, Brendan starts to discover the truth about a drugs ring headed up by former student The Pin (Haas).
In high school films everything - no matter how trivial - feels like a life-or-death situation; in 'Brick' it really is. No adults can help or even enter this world. Parents, apart from The Pin's smothering but ineffective mother, are not in the picture. Look away from the school details, few of which actually intrude into the plot, and 'Brick' is essentially a typical, densely plotted film noir, complete with a wise-cracking investigator, a couple of femme fatales and mysterious underworld figure. Like classics of the genre, it meanders a little, plot-wise, but these are all twists, turns and double crosses that come with the territory. The atmosphere is further enhanced by razor-sharp dialogue. "I've got knives in my eyes, I'm going home sick," Brendan grouses to Brain at one stage. Or, after he has received yet another beating, he tells The Pin, "Maybe I'll just sit here and bleed at you."
Sometimes the constrained budget shows - there are occasional microphone issues, a particular problem when the dialogue is so involved - and the film has an undoubtedly homemade look, but 'Brick' is innovative, ambitious and entertaining enough to keep the viewer hooked to the bitter, bitter end.