As anyone who reads my stuff probably already knows, I love detective stories, especially those of the noir genre. You know the type. The tough guy, working his way through the shadows of the underworld (often a reflection of his own darkness), looking for truth and justice in a world where both are in short supply. He encounters mob enforcers, crooked establishments, shady dames and crime bosses as he pieces together clues that might kill him before he rights the wrongs and dispenses justice, usually in some spectacular and clever manner. The hero’s life is on the razor’s edge and he never knows who he can trust.
Rian Johnson’s 2005 film, Brick, is one of those.
Only, it’s not. This one takes place in a high school, a world where who you eat lunch with is more important than the secrets you try to hide.
Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a disaffected loner who gets a frantic call from an ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie De Ravin). She’s in trouble and soon ends up dead. He hides her body and sets out to find the parties responsible. The trail leads him into the world of the cool kids and a high school heroin ring run by Pin (Lukas Haas).
This is good stuff. While the premise seems a bit silly at first glance, the movie his all the beats on the mark and keeps the story from straying out of the realm of the believable. It does such a great job that it’s truly hilarious when we’re reminded that these are just kids. I particularly loved the scene where Brendan and Pin are at the gang-leader’s house. Pin’s mom is fussing in the kitchen, making sure they boys get a proper after-school snack before leaving the room so they can talk business. A marvelous break in a movie where the tension slowly grows to a fever pitch.
The acting is great, but the actors have an awesome script to work with. The language is rife with terms incomprehensible to someone outside the insular cultures of high school cliques, as well as a lot of call-backs to Spillane and Chandler. At one point, Brendan referred to one of the crooks as a “skel”. I was in heaven. The language is key to the story, as Emily’s initial call uses several terms Brendan is unfamiliar with. To solve this mystery, he needs to infiltrate the cultures they came from. It all works out to the benefit of the audience, as we pick up enough of the lingo to keep up with the hero as he unravels the plot.
Overall, I loved it. I give it five out of five lipstick-smeared cigarette butts on a rain-slick sidewalk.