Obsessively detailed and frequently absorbing, Rian Johnson’s Brick affects the form and function of a Rube Goldberg machine, or a game of Milton Bradley’s Mouse Trap—it’s a complex construction with a simple and unsatisfying result. Film history is Johnson’s repository, and from it he picks out chunks of noir for a 500-piece puzzle that reveals a nameless Southern California high school as its background. Having fallen in with the popular kids, Emily (Emile de Ravin) is in trouble and her ex-boyfriend Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) senses moider. Before she turns up dead, Laura Palmer-style, outside an eerie drainage tunnel, Brendan has enlisted the help of The Brain (Matt O’Leary) to expose why Emily has gone missing and, later, the means by which she’s linked to a local drug ring operated by The Pin (Lukas Haas). Johnson’s characters resemble your average high school students but talk and act like familiar noir archetypes: every girl functions as a doomed dame, moll, or femme fatale—more explicitly, and this is given his sober outer shell and propensity for getting the shit beaten out of him, Brendan could be the offspring of Nicholson’s J.J. Gittes. What Johnson has done is apply the noir genre to a modern high school setting, except he’s forgotten to reinvent the wheel—he siphons the genre’s jargon, as well as its visual and acoustic pretenses (Brendan’s conversation with Emily inside a phone booth and his arrival at The Pin’s basement lair are marvels of sight and sound), but none of its moral and social consequence. Only in Brendan’s amusing encounters with a preening actress, Kara (Meagan Good), who literally employs undergrad boys as her lapdogs, does Johnson think beyond uncomplicated genre transposition. In these scenes, Johnson recognizes a correlation between the flow of power that passes through a high school’s pecking order and the authority that wears and tears the world of your average crackerjack noir. The rest is silencio, with noir idiom heaped onto modern high school life with such a willful lack of purpose you get a sense the film-school savvy Johnson could have replaced his setting with a McDonald’s and the effect would have been the same. The director has built a nifty-looking little contraption with a hollow center, with fingernails clean of grime—which means those who prefer their neo noir with Lynchian dressing should tread lightly.
Edge haloes, however slight, are present throughout, but detail is remarkable, as is shadow delineation and skin tones-overall, a very film-like presentation. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is robust, boasting fine dynamic range, especially when a car roars across the frame.
The commentary track included here is something of a traveling circus: Director Rian Johnson is the ringleader with producer Ram Bergman, production designer Jodie Tillen, costume designer Michele Posch, and actors Nora Zehetner and Noah Fleiss jumping through hoops intermittingly. Johnson's observations are the most useful-or, if you aren't a fan of the film, they may scan as validation of the film's inadequacy: Over and over again, the director confirms that the film's intent was scarcely meta-only a straight film noir situated within the "visual cues" of a high school setting. Johnson also provides commentary over eight deleted and extended scenes, which are evocatively intercut with behind-the-scenes footage and photos from the film. Rounding out the disc are Nora Zehetner and Noah Zegan's audition footage and previews for Dave Chapelle's Block Party, Slither, and Inside Man.
An artful but soulless stunt in the tradition of Miller's Crossing.