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Bruce Newman's Sundance Journal





Thursday, January 27, 2005

"Sam Spade, Please Report To Homeroom"

Another interesting spin through high school's hellish halls is "Brick," Rian Johnson's mostly successful attempt to apply the conventions of the hard-boiled detective novel--and film noir--to a set of fast-talking teenagers. They're in the midst of a drug deal with a not-so-heavy heavy, played by Lukas Haas. The femme fatale is the head cheerleader.

When the movie's cool protagonist, Brendan Fry (played with wonderful élan by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is taken to the vice-principal's office for causing trouble, he barks at him like a snub-nosed .38. "You got discipline issues with me? Write me up or suspend me," Brendan growls, heading for the door. "I'll see you at the next parent-teacher's conference."

This sort of thing is not entirely new. Baz Luhrmann did something similar--but on a much larger scale--with his "Romeo + Juliet." Johnson got the idea for "Brick" after developing an obsession with the crime novels of Dashiell Hammett. "Setting it in high school allowed us to avoid a direct homage to film noir, with guys running around in hats," Johnson says. "It's the kind of thing that, if it's done wrong, it could be really, really horrible."

Fortunately, it isn't done wrong. That cheerleader actually reminds me of a woman I once briefly married.

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