Sometimes, at the Sundance Film Festival, a movie is good, but not good enough to win an award. In this case, the Grand Jury can award a special prize. Brick shared a 2005 Award for "Originality of Vision" with Me and You and Everybody We Know. The only other similar award was for Secretary in 2002, which received an award for "Originality." People should pay attention to these awards. All three films are distinctive, and make for fascinating viewing. Brick is the most visually arresting film. In an era where everybody and their mom wants to transplant Shakespeare to high school settings (She's the Man is the latest effort), writer/director Rian Johnson decided to make a modern day noir film with teenagers.

Everything about Brick screams "noir," except the age of its characters. These Southern California teenagers speak, and sometimes dress like hard-boiled characters from the forties. The dialogue can be a bit dense at times. It takes a while to get into Johnson's groove, but once that happens, he aurally immerses the audience into his new world. Johnson keeps the lights low, and does some very interesting things with his camera. These little visual flairs and camera tricks also give the film a gritty, touch feeling. All of the prerequisite characters are here; the world-weary good guy, beautiful dames, the muscle, and the crime lord. There's even a bit of humor to keep everything off-kilter.

Brick also marks the first time that Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin, Latter Days) has been able to find a role that seems to match his choice in films. Gordon-Levitt gravitates towards the unusual, usually with lesser results. As Brendan Frye, he is riveting. Frye is trying to discover what happened to his girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin, The Hills Have Eyes). He works with his friend The Brain (Matt O'Leary, The Alamo, Spy Kids 3-D) to begin uncovering information based on her last phone call. Every clue leads him deeper into a dangerous world of competing gangs, beautiful women, and drugs. A violent thug named Tug (Noah Fleiss, Evergreen, Storytelling) and a creepy pusher named The Pin (Lukas Haas, Bookies, Long Time Dead) who operates out of the basement of his mother's house.

Johnson's plot is as dense as his dialogue. The facts come quickly, and it's up to the viewer to keep track of everybody and everything before Johnson and the Frye character move on. Johnson doesn't condescend to his audience, and forces them to process all the information by not spelling out everything in dialogue. Frye distrusts everybody around him, especially beautiful women like Laura Dannon (Nora Zehetner, May, American Pie 2), who may be playing both sides. These are very complex characters, quite unlike nearly every high school character that inhabits movies (again, see She's the Man - wait, don't). Brick is definitely something different. And different in a good way.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 50 minutes, Rated R for sexuality, language, and some drug use.

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