BRICK. Focus Features, 2005. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan Frye, Nora Zehetner as Laura Dannon, Lukas Haas as the Pin, Noah Fleiss as Tug, Matt O’Leary as The Brain, Emilie de Ravin as Emily Kostich, Noah Segan as Dode, Richard Roundtree as Assistant V.P. Trueman, Meagan Good as Kara, Brian White as Brad Bramish. Written and directed by Rian Johnson.

   If there is or ever has been a category of films called “high school neo-noir” – or let’s put it this way, if there isn’t, there should be, even if there’s only one film in it, and that film would be this one, a small little gem called Brick.

   Emily, the former girl friend of Brendan, a loner if not loser in high school, has left him for the higher “societal” levels of that same institution, calls him and asks for help, giving him hints that she’s over her head, and she has gotten into serious trouble. But se gives him only hints as to what that trouble might be, using the words “pin,” “tug,” and “brick.”

   Soon enough she is telling him to back off, but of course he does not. Following her trail through paths that only those of us who have managed to survive high school, except that was then and this is now, Southern California style, Brendan does find her, but alone, dead, next to a ditch filled with water leading to (or from) a circular sewage tunnel.

      “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it. And it happens we’re in the detective business.”

   And so is Brendan, whether he realizes it or not, a detective, as he (very painfully) struggles to avenge Emily’s death. This being a contemporary high school story (although not a single scene is filmed in a classroom) drugs are involved, and Brendan’s investigation leads straight to (and not through) the local kingpin of the local drug trade, as well as other well-hidden secrets, or so they thought.

   Most striking is the language, a local slang used in a combination of (yes) Dashiell Hammett and William Shakespeare, flowing like poetry in this small but ever expanding drama, and thanks to IMDb, I’ll finish the rest of the review by quoting some of it:

Brendan Frye: 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.

Laura Dannon: Do you trust me now?
Brendan Frye: Less than when I didn’t trust you before.

Brendan Frye: Emily said four words I didn’t know. Tell me if they catch. Brick?
The Brain: No.
Brendan Frye: Or Bad Brick?
The Brain: Nope.
Brendan Frye: Tug?
The Brain: Tug? Tug might be a drink, like milk and vodka, or something.
Brendan Frye: Poor Frisco?
The Brain: Frisco? Frisco Farr was a sophomore last year, real trash. Maybe had a class a week, I didn’t know him then, haven’t seen him around.
Brendan Frye: Pin?
The Brain: Pin. The Pin?
Brendan Frye: The Pin, yeah?
The Brain: The Pin is kinda a local spook story, you know, the King Pin.
Brendan Frye: Yeah, I’ve heard it.
The Brain: Same thing, he’s supposed to be old, like 26. Lives in town.
Brendan Frye: Dope runner, right?
The Brain: Big time. See the Pin pipes it from the lowest scraper for Brad Bramish to sell, maybe. 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, if 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.
Brendan Frye: You think The Pin’s just a tale to take whatever heat?
The Brain: Hmm… So what’s first?
Brendan Frye: Show of hands.

Brendan Frye: Maybe I’ll just sit here and bleed at you.

Kara: You better be sure you wanna know what you wanna know.

Emily: Brendan, I know you’re mad at these people because you think I went away from you and went to them but, you need to start seeing it as my decision. Stop getting angry because where I want to be at, is different from where you want to be at.
Brendan Frye: Who fed you that line, Em?
Emily: Stop picking on Dode. He’s a good guy.
Brendan Frye: The pie house rat?
Emily: He’s a good friend.
Brendan Frye: So, what am I?
Emily: Yeah, I mean what are you? Just sitting back here, hating everyone? Who are you to judge anyone? God, I really loved you a lot. I couldn’t stand it. I had to get with people. I couldn’t have a life with you anymore.

Laura Dannon: Listen, you’re scratching at the wrong door. I didn’t know Em well enough to know what she was in. I just got wind of the downfall.
Brendan Frye: If you haven’t got a finger in Em’s troubles, why did her name get me into your rather exclusive party?
Laura Dannon: Keep up with me now. I don’t know, but it sounded like you did. And a body’s got a right to be curious. Now I’m not so sure.
Brendan Frye: Oh, put that body to bed. I don’t know a damn thing about whatever troubles and that works for me. Just in fun.
Laura Dannon: Coffee and Pie.
Brendan Frye: Coffee and Pie, Oh My?
Laura Dannon: You didn’t hear it from me.

PS. This is one outstanding movie.