In a southern California high school, loner Brendan is a sharp-witted senior who keeps to himself, though he seems to be known by just about everyone else. His ex-girlfriend, Emily, has been missing for a month, until she makes a brief contact with him via phone. Brendan realizes she is in trouble, and starts compiling information to figure out what has happened. After following up on a clue, he finds her dead body in a drainage tunnel. He immediately sets his sights singled-mindedly on discovering the who's, how's and why's of her murder. He hides the body, so that he may investigate without police interference, and brings his only real friend, The Brain, as surveillance and intelligence gathering.
Using his fists to back up his wit and words, Brendan begins to uncover a large drug distribution circle that is headed by the mysteriously unknown Pin. As more clues pile up and the motives and loyalties of those around him are uncovered, the truth behind Emily's death comes within his grasp, even as a potential drug turf war threatens to explode because of his actions. To embellish the plot and story any further would be to rob the viewer of what is perhaps the finest detective story to grace the small screen since LA CONFIDENTIAL was first released on VHS.
What PUMP UP THE VOLUME did for high school loners wanting to express themselves in the 90's, BRICK will do for high school loners wanting to prove themselves in the new millennium. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is no stranger to the role of a high school student (he's been playing one since the late 90's), takes on the role of Brendan, and delivers what may be his best performance yet. He tackles the tricky dialog (more on this in a moment) with the superior gusto and a natural ability that would make you think he talks like this all the time. The movie follows Gordon-Levitt exclusively, and thus he is in almost every scene. Even the most trained actors could break under this strain, and possibly destroy the movie in the process, but he dryly flows from scene to scene with the same confidence of his character, and makes the movie work.
All of the supporting cast work with the same confidence and diligence as Gordon-Levitt, and everyone in this film looks like they could have been pulled from a local high school. This is a rarity in today's slick and polished high school film, and is essential for making the movie work. They each perform a certain archetype (again, more this in a moment), but never all themselves to be cornered as a stereotype, which is paramount for this movie to play as it does.
Rian Johnson, the director and writer of BRICK, returns to the world of sullen teens, a world he first helped to edit in 2002 with MAY, a horror-drama in which a young woman, who's desire for the perfect friend, goes to extreme lengths. Here, Johnson pulls from seedy 1940s noir worlds of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, and places them in a contemporary school setting. If you were to watch the film with only the volume, it could easily be misinterpreted as something made during the film noir hey-day. It is written that flawlessly. The characters speak their lines, which about as far from how a teenager would normally speak, as if they really did speak this way. Each character fills the needed void of what is needed in such a scenario. Brendan takes on the role of the private dick who do what he must to get the answers he wants. Emily does the standard dame in trouble that winds up dead. The Brain takes on the bookworm assistant who can decipher the clues. Tug takes on the role of the muscle-head heavy. Laura takes on the dressed-in-red femme fatale. The Pin, who at 26 is the only character not in high school, is the crimelord who thinks he is pulling the strings. Finally, the vice principal personifies the hardly seen but always looming by-the-books law.
With all fingers crossed, hopefully this film will land in the hands of teen movie watchers, and make them realize that a smart and purpose driven film can play out in the halls of a school, and that there is more out there than BRING IT ON, JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE and the rest of their substandard ilk. If this film does find its audience, and with the correct word of mouth it should, this may open the doors for a resurgence in smart detective thrillers. This is a smart film, and needs to be actively watched and listened to. So pour yourself a double scotch, get your a pocket notepad, prepare the ice to stop your bloody lip from swelling and set out to discover the mystery behind BRICK.