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Heroes of the Zeroes: Brick

by on February 15, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009.

Rated R

Death, deception and devotion that’s hazardous to one’s health are film-noir staples. Grafting such ideas — and a screwy slang in which context clues feel like life preservers — into a high-school setting sounds like the Max Fischer Players’ latest earnest stage failure.

But think of your early high-school days, grasping a slippery new language. Socially and emotionally, what were they if not riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas? Had a varsity student thrown a scrap of attention your way, would you not take the bait (especially if it were Meagan Good, winging her legs around in a titillating “Cabaret” getup)? And what of blinding love that feels bound to last forever when it won’t see 16?

Writer/director Rian Johnson’s 2005 “Brick” understood the pain of “shaking and blowing” on a relationship with a gravitational pull that’s too strong too soon. Noir fit “Brick” like a glove, stylishly injecting assured tough talk, vice-grip tension, black humor, striking sound design and gunshots sounding like locker doors slammed on options.

Selling the hustle exerted and hammering endured by a teen shamus, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Brendan, investigating the death of his lost love, Emily (Emilie de Ravin).

With few exceptions, Johnson never overplayed the homage or strayed into parody — instead extending empathy even to galoots on the fringes. The first time you “lose” something that was never yours to start with always stings. Like all great detective stories — and high-school flashbacks for some — to rewatch “Brick” is to get rattled right ’round all over again.

Note: Film Yapper Lauren Whalen will be conducting a lecture on “Brick” at midnight Saturday, March 13, at Facets Cinémathèque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave., in Chicago as part of the Facets Night School cult film series. For more information, or to get tickets, click here.