'Brick' Takes a Clever Look at Suburban Adolescence

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a young outcast trying to find out what happened to his ex-girlfriend in Brick, a hard-boiled noir set in a suburban high school.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Here's a movie concept for you. High school noir, a detective genre, with teenage leads. It's the brainchild of a first-time filmmaker who read a lot of Daschiel Hammet stories and then made the low-budget film called BRICK, editing it on his home computer. It won a jury prize for originality at Sundance.

Our critic, Bob Mondello, was skeptical, but, eventually, he was won over.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

As with any good noir film, we begin with a corpse, blonde, attractive, lying in a storm drain, except that it's not night or raining or glistening with neon. Everything is bright and suburban, and the blonde, Emily, is a teenager. So is her ex-boyfriend, Brendan, who tries, with a nerdy high-school buddy, to puzzle out what she was trying to tell him in her last phone call.

SOUNDBITE OF BRICK

Mr. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (as Brandon): Emily said four words I didn't know. Someone said catch.

Unidentified Man: Brick?

Mr. LEVITT: No.

Unidentified Man: Or bad brick?

Mr. LEVITT: No.

Unidentified Man: Tug?

Mr. LEVITT: Tug. Tug might be a drink, like milk and vodka or something.

Unidentified Man: Por frisco?

Mr. LEVITT: Frisco. Frisco Fall was a sophomore last year, real trash. Me and him had a class. Didn't know him then, haven't seen him around.

Unidentified Man: Pin?

Mr. LEVITT: Pin. The ?in, yeah.

Unidentified Man: Pin's kind of a local spook story, you know, the kind pin or the same thing. Supposed to be old, like 26. Who's in town?

END SOUNDBITE

MONDELLO: Old, like 26. If you've ever thought teenagers have a lingo all their own, these kids will seem like proof, unless, of course, you've seen a Sam Spade movie.

START SOUNDBITE

Unidentified Man: Dope-runner, right?

Mr LEVITT: Big time.

Unidentified Man: Ask any dope-runner where the junk's spraying, and they'll say they scraped it off Daddy, scored it off this, bout it off someone, after four or five connections, the list always ends with the Pin. But I bet she got every rat in town together and said, show your hands. If any of them actually seen the Pin, we'd get a crowd of full pockets.

END SOUNDBITE

MONDELLO: A crowd of full pockets. Keeping up? Well, the Pin is, as advertised, old, though more like 22 than 26, and he is a drug dealer, though just how that connects with Emily is a question mark. So Brendan sets about finding him, at first by asking questions, and then by antagonizing his thugs, who eventually beat him to a pulp and deliver him to the Pin's lair, his lair in his mom's house.

START MOVIE CLIP

Unidentified Woman: I thought we had orange juice, Brendan. I'm sorry. How about some Tang? No, that's more like soda, isn't it?

Mr. LEVITT: Water's fine, ma'am, thanks.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, wait a minute. We have apple juice here if you'd like that.

Mr. LEVITT: Apple juice sounds terrific.

Unidentified Woman: It's country style.

Mr. LEVITT: That's perfect.

Unidentified Woman: And I'll even give it to you in a little country glass. How about that? Okay, well, I'm going to go sit in the other room.

Mr. LUKAS HAAS (as the Pin): So, how about you take another snap at hearing your tail?

END SOUNDBITE

MONDELLO: The notion that this hermetically sealed world exists apart from the world that most of us know is not unlike the notion that a romantic, neon-drenched underworld lies at the heart of the big city. Writer-director Ryan Johnson has great fun with noirish camera angles and a script sharp enough to slice through the world-weariness of high school vamps, drama queens and thugs. No Raymond Chandler hero was ever as existential as a modern teenager, after all, and Brendan, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, might as well be Humphrey Bogart in a sweatshirt. Is BRICK profound? No, it's a stunt, but a clever, very cool stunt, played not for laughs, though it's often funny, but for keeps by folks so hard-boiled, they already feel as only high-schoolers can, old, like 18.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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