Here’s how you know Joseph Gordon-Levitt is worth watching: he’s got looks, youth, talent and opportunity, but he persistently throws it away on awesome little movies barely anyone goes to see.
Neat thing about this is if you like one of his movies, like The Lookout, Mysterious Skin or 2005’s Brick, you’ll probably dig them all. Like, uh, the upcoming G.I. Joe movie. Where he plays Cobra Commander. Seriously.
But hey, every casting decision the man’s made so far has been gold, so right now I’m expecting G.I. Joe to be the greatest big screen adaptation of a crummy ’80s cartoon yet.
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High schooler Gordon-Levitt’s ex-girlfriend is in trouble. She doesn’t tell him what kind; in fact, after her initial panic, she doesn’t want his help at all. But as he delves into the school’s seamy underbelly, he learns she’s in much deeper than either of them had imagined, tracing back to a shadowy druglord named the Pin.
You’ve all got your Handy Dictionary of Kooky Noir Terms That Haven’t Been Spoken Aloud in 40 Years, right? Good, because you’ll need it. Though writer/director Rian Johnson sets his film in a modern high school, it plays out like the hardboiled detective fiction of yore. Between the funny, whip-crack dialogue peppered with outmoded slang and a rangy, convoluted plot (lot of ins, lot of outs, to use the parlance of our times), Brick demands a second viewing in the same sense the sun demands to be warm.
No problem. Even if the setting sounds like a gimmick — and it adapts itself surprisingly well to genre conventions, posing principals as cops and football players as the cultural elite — Brick is not an empty concept.
It’s quiet, moody, grim, enhanced by a cool score and fleshed out by an apt cast of young unknowns. They play it straight, but there’s a freewheeling absurdity that comes to the front whenever details of real life intrude, like when the Pin’s mother serves him and Gordon-Levitt cookies and apple juice, then hustles away so she doesn’t have to hear whatever dirty crimes they’re no doubt up to.
Sound cute? Hey, people are dying here, you heartless jerk — in nasty, unglorified violence that wears Gordon-Levitt down to a coughing shell by the time he ties the mystery together. Brick sounds like a spoof but is executed like a lost James M. Cain novel. Don’t let the initial confusion put you off. As with all good noir, it all makes sense by the end.