Brendan’s heart sinks like a brick in the runoff from a storm drain: like the bleak river Acheron, he must cross this painful threshold and enter the underworld to discover the deadly truth. The film begins with an arm, its blue bracelets clattering softly amid the gentle current as a young man stands over the discarded blonde-haired corpse. Match Cut: the same blue bracelets upon the same girl, her life not yet expired, as we are taken backwards in time to discover the mysterious and tragic events that led to her demise.
Director Rian Johnson transposes the classic film noir conventions to a modern-day high school where the tough but emotionally gentle Brendan must solve the murder of his true love. Our pugnacious protagonist is a master of quick talk and manipulation, but only for the benefit of finding those responsible: he is the moral compass the guides the narrative true north. Though he plays the high school cliques against each other, crashing parties, cars, and faces, he never escapes unscathed. The drama is resplendent with humor, such as the eventual cooperation with aged “The Pin” (like, 27 years old) who deals drugs from his mother’s paneled basement amid the crumbling suburbs. And the mother who serves his “friends” cookies and pours milk from a chicken decanter while talking to them like children! But the tragedy is the dark undercurrent that keeps pulling us under, and Brendan never forgets that his goal is vengeance upon those who murdered his pregnant girlfriend.
Johnson utilizes Godard-like jump cuts to disorient the viewer and the soundtrack adds a transcendently hellish intrigue to the aural mix of slang and violence. Of course, the femme fatale seems to seduce Brendan but his keen observations and dogged determination, homage to Hammett’s Sam Spade, keep him from moral corruption: she may reveal the infernal secret to destroy the last vestiges of his humanity, but Brendan has the last word…and it’s as heavy as a brick, cut with savage poison.
Final Grade: (B+)