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RUNNING TIME: 110 min.
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• The Inside Track: Casting the Roles
• Feature Commentary by Cast and Filmmakers
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss, Matt O’Leary, Noah Segan, Meagan Good, Emilie de Ravin, Richard Roundtree, Lukas Haas
"A favor? A guest shot on 20 Good Years? Can I get back to you on that, John?"
When his ex-girlfriend turns up dead, self-styled gumshoe Brendan Frye (Gordon-Levitt) embarks on a single-minded quest for answers. He will cross paths with fellow outsider Brain (O’Leary), society girl Laura (Zehetner), thug Tugger (Fleiss), low-life Dode (Segan), theatre queen Kara (Good) and ultimately a clubfooted drug-lord played by Lukas Haas.
It’s classic film-noir: someone has died who didn’t deserve to; more deaths will follow before justice is done; bigger and darker dealings will come to light; illusions will be shattered; no one will escape unscathed. Our hero, outclassed physically, socially, and economically, will rely solely on his wits and will-power, taking each threat, each vicious beating as a sign that he is on the right track. The twist? Virtually every character is just a teenager.
He’s been waiting for that train all day. I don’t have the heart to tell him.
Writer/director Rian Johnson’s first film is the missing link between the transplanted noir stylings of Blood Simple and the ghostly suburbia of Donnie Darko, both impressive debut films themselves. Johnson’s film goes them one better by taking all its characters seriously. The dialogue is a stylized mix of 1930s tough-guy jargon and invented slang, and one of the script’s inventive touches is how even our hero has to figure out some of the terminology: an outsider in his own movie, Murder One is the only thing that could make him interact with the other kids at school.
It helps that the actors all get it. Nobody tries to impersonate Humphrey Bogart or Elisha Cook, Jr, but they don’t force ‘naturalism’ on their line readings either. Gordon-Levitt continues to leave his TV legacy in the dust, and Haas’ villain is alternately menacing and pathetic. Zehetner struggles with a tricky femme-fatale role that forces her to be more of an icon than a personality, but de Ravin (playing a good ten years younger than her Lost character) is the very image of a girl to die for. Richard Roundtree’s cameo, as a vice-principal who has benefitted from Brendan’s detective work in the past, provides just the right element of real grown-up complexity.
Being a conjoined twin doesn’t have to be all bad.
Hard-boiled High—it’s a concept fraught with peril. The cocky patter and slick retro clothes shouldn’t have worked, let alone resulted in one of the best films of the year, but make no mistake: this isn’t Bugsy Malone. If anything, it’s closer to River’s Edge, minus the dreary pretense of social significance. Brick’s heightened emotional environment captures the hormonal chaos of adolescence better than any ‘realistic’ portrayal; the class issues implicit in Hammett and Chandler dovetail easily into a world where someone’s social status can be determined by their access to a car.
"Take back what you said about Tom Baker!"
Johnson hosts a cast-and-crew commentary, bringing in guests one at a time. It’s an interesting solution to keeping everyone from talking over each other, but it lacks momentum since each segment tends to return focus to the beginnings of the project rather than follow the continuing action onscreen. His solo introductions to the deleted scenes are more informative.
We also get a pair of brief screen-tests, and a nice easter egg containing one of Johnson’s early amateur shorts, Ninja Ko: Origami Master. What’s interesting about this is that Brick is essentially the same kind of thing: kids playing dress-up versions of stock adult characters. I’ll be curious to see what he does next.
No Polish jokes, please.