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Eugene Weekly : Movie Review : 08.03.06


High School Gets Heavy.


BRICK: Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss, Meagan Good, Matt O'Leary, Emilie de Ravin and Richard Roundtree. Focus Features, 2006. R. 115 minutes.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matt O'Leary in Brick.

In a concrete city canal, a young man crouches beside a trickle of water. A few feet away lies a blonde girl, face down. Details fill the screen: her scuffed brown shoes, blue plastic bangles, damp strands of hair. The stark, arresting scene opens Brick, a taut, tangled, witty film that sets a detective story in the echoing hallways of a California high school.

The boy is Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a loner who never goes to class and has a single friend, the bespectacled, fast-talking Brain (Matt O'Leary). Brendan sinks into a world of teen crime while investigating the death of the blonde, his ex, Emily (Emilie de Ravin, from "Lost"). It's a world of deceptive simplicity, stylized settings and unexpected levity, where characters speak in a rat-a-tat mélange of contemporary cool and old school detective slang. Women are dangerous, men conniving or violent. Brick's unlikely charms are plenty, from the appearance of Richard Roundtree (Shaft) as an authoritative assistant vice principal to the awkward scene in which reality intrudes on young drug lord the Pin (Lukas Haas) in the form of his mother, offering Brendan too many beverage choices.

Writer-director Rian Johnson's first feature film is surreal and stunning, shot simply but elegantly, with a score that sizzles and zings, adding to the story like a narrator speaking in an unknown language. But mostly it's Gordon-Levitt's performance that propels Brick. Hands deep in his pockets, Brendan leans forward, his lanky, battered form pushing toward a deeper truth. Clever, adaptable and flawed, Brendan's mush-mouthed detective, with John Lennon glasses and a mop of untidy hair, is unforgettable. You may not catch his every word on first viewing, but it's OK; you'll want to watch again anyway, to catch those moments when Brick's pieces slyly fall into place.