Brick ★★★★

A near impossible shroud of cool exists around Brick, an intangible sense of hyper-real style in the manner of speech, the setting and the characters that populate it. Rian Johnson, with his debut feature, delivers a truly fresh and unique take on the hard-boiled noir - his isn't set in smoky bars, detective offices or gangland dens, rather high school baseball fields, principals offices and suburban basements. It should be a comedy, it should come across utterly ridiculous, but Johnson pulls such a magic trick as to hook you in - though equal credit must go to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

For this was the movie that made you realise he was not just an actor, rather a genuine talent. Gordon-Levitt is the beating heart of the whole thing as Brendan, our late-teen Sam Spade for a new age; dogged, hard-boiled, whip smart, he may appear downbeat with his scruffy hair, natty jacket and baggy jeans but he's a Rubik's Cube in human form, driven by love for a damsel in distress to begin unravelling Johnson's complex narrative which brings him into contact with a myriad of high-school characters, all nu-versions of a Dashiel Hammett-esque persona - Emilie de Ravin as the aforementioned damsel (she can essay waif-types now, it's her stock-in-trade), Nora Zehetner as the dame who may or may not be an ally (and she's sweetly, convincingly hard to pin down throughout), Matt O'Leary as the monkey, the ally and fact finder, Meagan Good the femme fatale, Noah Fleiss as the muscle (excellently psychotic too) and Lukas Haas as the criminal kingpin (or simply The Pin as he's known here, moody, quiet and theatrical in his performance). Johnson entangles these archetypes while succeeding in making them more, making them people, and he manages that by - for all the hip, noir conversation that you almost need a dictionary to decipher - keeping a sense of blackly comic understanding between he & us that this still remains a world largely of school kids, typified in a scene where the Pin's mum fusses around him. Johnson's skill is in balancing that awareness with genuine threat & peril - this is no comedy, people die, get beaten to a pulp & lives are ruined, and creating that cocktail without tipping too far one way or the other is admirable.

Brick, despite wearing its influences visibly and tipping its hat to them frequently, is as fresh and original a screenplay as you're likely to see made; it's structured like a Swiss watch, complex without being alienating, cold without being distancing and driven by a magnetic lead performance by Gordon-Levitt as well as fantastic supporting players. Yet this still remains Rian Johnson's movie - he directs with the confidence of someone way beyond a debut, full of quirks & stylistics that mark the piece as artful without being pretentious. The coolest movie of its decade, easily.

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