Rian Johnson’s flashy and flimsy debut works best as an introduction to the complexities of Neo Noir (my students loved it), playing with the classic genre conventions just enough while injecting a modern energy into what boils down to a very standard plot. Having disliked the film immensely upon it’s 2006 release, I can still say upon second viewing that the third act is a messy hodgepodge of posturing characters and inane crescendos of violence. But that’s not to say Johnson isn’t an immense talent, especially at subverting expectations with characters.
Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Brendan is a brilliantly conflicted centerpiece who keeps evolving to his surrounding environment, at times vulnerable and melancholy, while at others deceptively brutal. Despite what the film’s defenders continue to say, Brick stands upright because of Brendan’s pain and longing for a sense of place, not because his roundabout dialogue or street smarts. In the end, Johnson’s main focus remains teen identity snuffed out by adult cynicism, an unsettling theme when considering the generation immediately younger than your own.