In present-day California, high schooler Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets a call from his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin). She lets him know that she’s in trouble, asks for his help, then disappears. This sends Brendan on a quest to find her with the help of his friend the Brain (Matt O’Leary). Along the way, he runs into trouble with other students: rich-girl Laura (Nora Zehetner), drama queen Kara (Meagan Good), and druggie Dode (Noah Segan). The quest to find Emily begins to consume him, and soon he’s involved with the Pin, a local drug lord (Lukas Haas), and his enforcer, Tug (Noah Fleiss).
Rian Johnson won the 2005 special jury prize at Sundance for originality of vision, and his name shows up three times in Brick’s credits: writer, director, and editor. He does an impeccable job in all three roles. In one of the DVD extras, he cites Dashiell Hammett as a big influence. For those unfamiliar with Hammett, he was a crime novelist. He’s probably most famous for creating the character Sam Spade, who was played by Humphrey Bogart in one of the best noir films, The Maltese Falcon.
This influence is reflected most in the film’s dialogue – it’s very stylized. There’s a lot of rhythm, slang, and everything is spoken very quickly. Take note: to catch Johnson’s razor-sharp wit, you need to be paying full attention. This is a movie that requires a smart audience.
Ask any dope rat where the junk’s spraying and they’ll say they scraped it off that, who scored it off this, who bought it off someone; after four or five connections, the list always ends with the Pin. But I betcha you got every rat in town together and said show your hands if any of ‘em actually seen the Pin, we’d get a crowd of full pockets.
Setting the story in a Southern California high school instead of 1940’s New York City was a big risk. There are a couple of scenes where this premise could have run into problems. For example, when Brendan gets called into the principal’s office, the movie really could have started to fall apart. (Can you imagine Sam Spade getting called into the principal’s office?) But Johnson pulls it off, lightening the mood by having Brendan and the principal exchange some clever banter.
He also did an amazing job with the editing. The pacing of the film is flawless. It doesn’t drag at any point, and all the pieces come together at just the right moment. You get the best sense of what kind of an editor Johnson is by watching what didn’t make it into the film. If you watch the DVD extras, there are several deleted/extended scenes, each introduced with a short rationale about why they were left on the cutting room floor. None of the scenes were bad – well, maybe one dream sequence – but everything he cut tightened up the whole movie.