A strange, haunting and quite engaging debut film from director Rian Johnson, "Brick" takes the teen film in a way that I can't remember it ever being taken before: the hard-boiled noir. The film may take place in present day, but the writing and the shadowy cinematography manage to achieve the desired look surprisingly well, despite the picture's low budget.
The film opens with Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has shown himself just as capable of comedy as he is drama) standing over the body of his one-time girlfriend at the mouth of a storm drain. The picture then flashes back to a couple of days prior, with Emily (Emilie De Ravin, of "Lost") asking Brendan for help before the call mysteriously ended.
After the call for help, Brendan sets out to investigate his former flame's disappearance, heading deeper and deeper into the school's seedy underbelly to find out what kind of trouble Emily has gotten into. The path leads up to a pusher called The Pin (Lukas Haas) and his dangerous associate, Tugger (Noah Fleiss). There's also the femme fatales - Laura (Nora Zehetner) and a drama queen (Meagan Good), as well. Brendan's advised from different sources - even the Vice Principal - to stop his investigation.
Again, it's to Johnson's credit that the seams never show in his carefully constructed world, with marvelous, memorable dialogue and images that are unique and inventive. Despite taking place in the midst of the modern world, the picture somehow manages to feel wonderfully isolated, bleak (although the one moment a parent is shown is surprisingly light) and haunted. The film is definitely dark and tough, but it's not so deep into the darkness that it becomes difficult to watch or sluggish. While the picture could use some minor trimming to tighten it up and keep it tense, it was never boring..
The performances are terrific, with Levitt providing a witty, sharp performance that manages to be subtle and yet not too underplayed. "Lost" hasn't quite figured out to do with Ravin, it seems, but she's genuinely touching in her scenes here as a girl who's lost her way. Good and Zehetner also do a fine job of playing their cards close and keeping in the mood of the piece. "Brick" is an impressive debut - setting a noir in a present day high school may be a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that's pulled off in a seamless, fresh and vivid manner in this case.
VIDEO: "Brick" is presented by Universal Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Picture quality is first-rate, as the DVD effort preserved the film's gritty, raw appearance quite well. Sharpness and detail were not outstanding, but the slightly soft look of the film appears to be intentional.
Some slight edge enhancement was spotted on a couple of occasions, but the picture looked crisp and clean, otherwise. Understandably, colors appeared subdued throughout the picture, but appeared accurately presented.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is understandably rather low-key, but the surrounds do offer up some light ambience and a couple of sound effects on occasion, not to mention some reinforcement of the score. Audio quality was perfectly fine, with clean-sounding dialogue and a few powerful sound effects.
EXTRAS: Commentary by director Rian Johnson and members of the cast (although no Gordon-Levitt), 8 deleted scenes w/intros and featurette on casting.
Final Thoughts: "Brick" is an uncommonly good debut picture. It's superbly crafted, offers great performances and its world is simple, yet riveting. It's so detailed that many will likely want to watch it again just to pick up on points they missed. The DVD presentation offers very good audio/video quality, along with a few good supplements. Recommended.
The Film A-