Rian Johnson's phenomenal Brick came out of nowhere, a new voice and tone in a world of carbon copy teen films. Any attempt to convey just how good it is gets caught up in the explanation, which is paltry and insufficient: It's a teen noir film. Now, this is the sort of thing that could only go wrong, but the amazing thing is, it doesn't. There isn't a misplaced or pathetic moment in the entire film, which is rich with fantastic dialogue and images. I remember the first time I saw it, the language seemed rough, caustic, hard to hear, and even harder to get used to as my mind struggled to translate the complicated into something simpler. At its most basic level Brick is about Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a high school student out to find his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin), after a mysterious call leads him to believe she may be mixed up in some dark secrets and evil deeds.
The film's first few lines are meager, spare, and perfectly capture just how awkward it can be to get back in contact with an ex. We're introduced to Brendan the way that he will remain throughout the film, as an amateur detective in the vein of Philip Marlowe -- he's tough but sharp.
Emily: Yeah ... How's things?
Brendan: Status quo.
As things progress, Brendan realizes Emily has gotten mixed up in drugs and who knows what else. He gets a few hints as to her location around school and from a party thrown by the elusive and lovely Laura, who seems to be a big player, if only Brendan could figure out who she's playing for. Brendan seeks out Dode, a pot-smoking friend of Emily's, and when things get tense and Brendan is threatened by some of Dode's minions, he pulls out this:
Brendan: Throw one at me if you want, hash-head. I've got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you.
As the plot threatens to drag Brendan down with it, he returns to his friend, known only as The Brain. We're treated to the following bit, which is pretty much absolutely unquotable, but there's got to be usable material in here somewhere as the director/writer shows us just what he's capable of doing with dialogue. Hearing it straight from The Brain's mouth never fails to send chills up my spine:
The Brain: Ask any dope rat where their junk sprang and they'll say they scraped it from that who scored it from this who bought it off so and after four or five connections the list always ends with the Pin. But I bet you got every rat in town together and said 'show your hands' if any of them've actually seen the Pin, you'd get a crowd of full pockets.
Making himself present around school as he continues to get at information about where Emily is, Brendan runs into a mid-level player named Brad and taunts him with ease:
Brad: Who invited you?
Brendan: To the parking lot? Well, gee, I kind of invited myself.
Failing to stay out of trouble and go about his business undetected, Brendan is pulled into the Assistant Vice Principal's office and offered a sort of bargain, which he will eventually ignore. But first he lets us in on this little item:
Gary Trueman: You've helped this office out before.
Brendan: No, I gave you Jerr to see him eaten, not to see you fed.
Gary Trueman: Fine. And very well put.
Brendan: Accelerated English, Mrs. Kasprzyk.
Gary Trueman: Tough teacher?
Brendan: Tough but fair.
After an astounding run-in with the local drug lords, the film is brought to a stern resolution, one that finds us in classic noir territory, and without giving any of it away, we find Brendan and The Brain sharing a few terse words in the final scene:
The Brain: What did she whisper to you?
Brendan: She called me a dirty word.
The Brain: All right, you don't have to tell me.
And as quickly as it happened, the film is over. What makes Brick great is not these few scattered lines that stand as monuments to creative genius, but the words used throughout the film that you eventually grow used to as you hear them repeated. Brick leaves you stuffed to the gills and wanting more, all at the same time.