Brick

***

I finally returned to my first movie-going love, the County Theater in Doylestown, PA, to see Brick, a Dashiell Hammett-style detective thriller set in a Southern California high school. The film isn’t much for emotional involvement, the main conceit turns out to be little more than a gimmick, and I’m not sure the plot makes any sense at all. But damned if I noticed any of that while watching it.

When Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds his ex-girlfriend dead in a ditch, he sets out to find who killed her. Since she was last seen with a colorful assortment of junkies, thugs and drug dealers, he’s in for a rough couple of days.

The film is highly stylized: high school kids talk like hard-boiled 1930s detectives, scheme like bored Victorian socialites, never seem to go to class, and manage to run a self-contained criminal society without any adult or police intervention. Ultimately, this story could be told in almost any location. The high school setting leads to nothing more than a few jokes about oblivious mothers.

The kids’ movie-ized speech patterns, combined with a unique visual style, make this one of the more sensually arresting films in years. The handful of fight sequences, in particular, are thrilling: shot and staged in an immediate, realistic style that mimics the visceral quality of being in a fight.

At the end, when the details of the crime have been (more or less) revealed, we realize there isn’t much there. This is a simple story, artificially complicated so there’s more to investigate, strung out so our hero can be involved in as many dangerous, funny and exciting sequences as possible. And it works. For two hours I sat reveling in the style, appreciating the wit, laughing at the jokes. Check it out.

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