Every director starts somewhere and before Knives Out and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (I know, you hate this movie), Rian Johnson made his debut with Brick, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Trial of Chicago 7, The Dark Knight Rises), Nora Zehetner (The Brothers Bloom, Imperial Dreams), and Lukas Haas (First Man, Widows), the film centers on Brendan Frye, who receives a panicked phone call from his ex-girlfriend, who ends up being found dead days later. To find out the truth behind her murder, Frye goes deep undercover in the high-school cliques and confronts some of the roughest characters, including a drug dealer known as “The Pin”. First premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, the 2005 film would go on to win the Special Jury Prize at the prestigious event. Despite the numerous accolades that Brick has received, it never managed to get a full run inside of the theaters. Johnson penned the script in 1997, which was fresh out of film school. As you can imagine, it was tough for the director to secure a budget for the film; however, Johnson was able to make the movie for under $500,000 thanks to family and friends. This film helped launch several careers and for good reasons, Brick is one of the best films to come out in the early 2000s.
It’s a hardboiled detective film noir story, which funny enough, Johnson never wanted his cast to base his influences on the classic genre. Brick ends up being a twisty little crime thriller that once again showcases that it doesn’t take an expensive budget to make an incredible film. Easily the star of the show is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Brendan Frye, who successfully convinces as the smart loner teenager. Frye feels like the kid you would see eating lunch alone in the cafeteria because of Levitt’s committed performance as Frye. We’re able to feel his pain, anger, and shock throughout the twisty world that he dives deep into, and despite the vast array of interesting characters, Frye never gets lost in the shuffle. It also helps that Johnson pens the Frye character effectively. Frye isn’t the most likable presence in the world; however, we as an audience understand his character due to the relatable high school setting. The bravado and toughness that Frye shows throughout the film help add layers to his character. It also helps that Frye feeds off an incredible cast of interesting characters. One of the key components of film noir classics such as The Maltese Falcon or Chinatown is the cast of shady, yet complex characters. Johnson wisely sprinkles the core cast with color to throw suspicion around to keep the audience guessing over who killed his ex-girlfriend.
However, Johnson is able to balance the comedic aspects of the film that never distracts from the core story or the overall tone. Meeting the drug dealer known as “The Pin” at his mother’s house was a funny sequence; however, the moment isn’t played up too much and the overall shady nature of “The Pin” character is never compromised due to that sequence. One of the standouts in the cast is Noah Fleiss’s Tug; the supporting player represents the classic high school bully; however, as the film explores the criminal world involving the muscle for “The Pin”, Tug’s character is more layered than just your typical high school bully. Another highlight is Nora Zehetner’s Laura Dannon, who represents another important aspect in the world of film noir. While film noir aficionados will likely figure out who killed Emily before the credits roll, that doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy the thrill ride that leads you up to that big reveal. Also, the cinematography should be commended as the look and feel of the film perfectly captures the dreary and dark mood of the overall story. Johnson never goes over the top with Brick, effectively grounding the feature without unnecessary components. The film makes up for lavish and beautiful locations thanks to interesting shots that actually help enhance the story.
All-in-all, Brick is another underrated gem that demands to be seen. Even if you’re not into film noir (or you simply don’t know what it is), then the movie is still a darn good detective story that will keep you on the edge of your toes for the most part. In many ways, Brick is a precursor to Knives Out, another excellent film that actually features Noah Segan, who plays Node in Johnson’s debut feature film. If you loved Knives Out, then you’ll love Brick.