Brick is an interesting example of a unique twist on the neo-noir genre. Imagine, if you will, a movie in which The Maltese Falcon takes place in a high school. A Southern California high school, where kids seem to roam at all hours of the day or night, unfettered by parental rules.
So, Brendan Frye (played as part-nerd, part-tough guy by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is all torn up about his girlfriend Emily calling it quits with him. But a phone call (in an actual phone booth, no less)—side note: in a retro touch, Brendan doesn’t own a cell phone or prefers not to use one—from Emily worries Brendan, because Emily spouts nonsense about a brick and various horrible guys with tough-sounding names.
Then someone tosses a cigarette from a passing car, in such a way that it should be circled with an arrow pointing from the words, “Hello! I’m a clue!”
Well, after a lot of figuring stuff out (and a meeting where Emily begs Brendan to take a walk), Brendan finds Emily dead in a ditch outside a tunnel. And, at that point, I found myself saying aloud, “She was dead. Wrapped in plastic.”
To make a long story short (and keep from telling you every single thing about this film), every character has some kind of counterpart with the old film noir archetypes—except, in this case, they happen to be in high school. Plus, there’s the drug connection that Brendan wants to investigate. (The word “brick” doesn’t refer in this case to housing construction material. Ahem!)
Brendan goes to Vice Principal Trueman for his blessing to investigate the drug ring, instead of calling the cops when he finds the body. And Trueman allows him to proceed, but warns that if Brendan is “caught,” he’ll “throw him under the bus.” I assume it’ll be made part of his “permanent record.” Why Brendan consults Trueman on this, rather than calling the police is a mystery in itself.
Brendan muscles his way in with the drugpin—for a geek with glasses, this guy’s as inclined to throw a punch as Mike Hammer. And, as it turns out, Mr. Drugpin (called … wait for it … the Pin) lives in his mother’s basement. In fact, he seems to be the only kid with parents in the whole film.
To sum it up, there are lots of goings on at all times of the day and night. And Brendan gets frequent rides from Laura, a flirty femme fatale type who knows all the druggies. And the usual plot twists and red herrings ensue.
It is (almost painfully) clear that director Rian Johnson was obsessed with Dashiell Hammett’s novels when he developed the screenplay. Brendan even says at one point, “Now you’re dangerous.” Recognize the line?
Bottom line: if you’ve seen The Maltese Falcon, you’ve seen this one. Except I guess a brick of dope is the black bird. And the players are all under age.
On the whole, I found this film to be just so-so, especially given how far I had to stretch my suspension of disbelief. But if you absolutely love film noir, you might find it amusing, if incredibly predictable.