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Not Jethro Tull

Brick was really good. I have to admit I went in expecting a cute gimmick movie — well, not cute. A noir gimmick, but you know what I mean. A movie that existed for the sake of the gimmick: noir high school. This was not what I got.

Yes, it’s a noir flick set at a high school. Strip away the high school and there’s nothing really new here. It’s pitch perfect; Rian Johnson gets the noir thing. The dialogue is tough, the characterizations are good, the fractured spinning loyalties are good. The subtle implications of perversity are good. If you grew the kids up and stuck the thing in Chicago or New York or LA, you’d have a competent but not surprising noir which would eventually show up in some classic noir boxed set or other, and people would say “Hey, it’s nice to see that one on DVD.”

Probably you’d stick it in LA. I haven’t seen mention of this in any interviews, but the washed out hallucinogenic colors are deeply reminiscent of Point Blank. There’s a chase scene which could be an homage to Lee Marvin’s loud footsteps. It’s fractured in some of the same loopy delirious ways.

However, the core power of the movie would be lost if you did that. The high school is not just a gimmick. The element that kept my gut twisted tight for the majority of the movie was the way in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries the weight of being a noir protagonist.

In the classic noir, the hero is flawed, drawn into situations beyond his ability to cope. Okay. Take that hero and make him a high schooler. There’s no way Gordon-Levitt can carry the weight of what he’s facing. This is a high school kid who’s messed up and isolated anyway; his clear vulnerability and fragility is nearly painful to watch. His fury is palpable in every scene: the way he roughs people up, the way he comes back up off the pavement when he shouldn’t be able to. The movie is a race between his anger and his ability to sustain.

And was it worth it? That’s the noir question.

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