Brick, director Rian Johnson's 2005 debut, is one of those great gems hidden amongst the independent film stockpile. Filmed on a budget of $, this wonderfully crafted neo-noir takes the tropes of Dashiell Hammett and transplants them into a Californian high school.
Jospeh Gordon Levitt (post-3rd Rock From The Sun, pre-(500) Days Of Summer) takes the lead as Brendan Frye, the school loner turned amateur sleuth, trying to bust a local drug ring and avenge a murdered friend, and this role was really where the Nolan-endearing star quality Levitt showed off in Inception and (500) Days of Summer really begins to shine. As the lead, he radiates cool as the character who knows how to play all the angles and how not to get played himself, but also explores vulnerability in his performance (emotionally and literally - note how the various injuries he takes stack up throughout the film). His, however, is just one of many great acting jobs in this film - Lucas Haas as drug lord The Pin, Nora Zehenter (who I did NOT recognize from Heroes!) as sexy femme fatale Laura and Noah Fleiss as Tug. Each character brings life to well-worn noir archetypes, but simultaneously imbues them with modern energy brought on by the sincere emotional rawness of a contemporary indie film.
Of course, the MVP here is Rian Johnson's superb screenplay. With the style of dialogue modelled directly after those old Raymond Chandler books, it brings the achingly cool world of noir to life. Surprisingly, it rarely seems contrived or forced, but instead really feels like what these characters would say. The story itself is a great little mystery which unravels at a fine pace and really keeps the audience on their toes. That said, that the DVD doesn't come with subtitles is going to hurt for those who can't get past the intimidating slang.
All in all, Brick is a great little movie which packs both style and substance, and to this day is an utterly unique, beautifully realised work.