First-time writer/director Rian Johnson and a mostly unknown, but uniformly excellent teenage cast deliver a stunner of a film with “Brick,” recently out on DVD. The script is straight out of Chandler or Hammett – a loner on shaky grounds with both sides of the law delves into an underworld drug-trade to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend – complete with the requisite crackling dialogue, mire of double- and triple-crosses, and a pace that never slows down.
Where the film really sets itself apart however is in the seemingly questionable decision to set the film in modern-day high school. Yeah, you read that right: high school. In the DVD commentary, Johnson says that he wanted to get rid of the visual cues by now indelibly associated with noir (big hats, long coats, dark shadows) to undermine the viewer’s expectations of the genre. Bogey’s words coming out of a high school kid’s mouth should be cheap and gimmicky, but the whole film is delivered with such passion and verve that the trick works in spades. We get all of the twists and action of a noir with the familiar angst of a teen flick: a commentary on and great example of both genres.
The film was shot at the southern California high school that Johnson himself graduated from more than a decade ago and looks great. There are tons of neat visual tricks and eccentricities, wonderfully bizarre characters (most notably The Pin, the town drug dealer who is older than the other kids, “like 26”), and an honest, tangible love of the material in every frame. It’s dazzling, surprising, and endlessly entertaining, with real emotional stakes. The best new film I have seen in a long time.