Child stardom is a bizarre phenomenon. It’s not so much that the prominence of child actors is surprising, but the wild downward trajectory their careers tend to take post-pubescence is overwhelming. It’s not guaranteed, but it happens on far more occasions than it doesn’t. Sometimes we get Jodie Fosters, other times we’re saddled with Edward Furlongs. One child actor who proved insusceptible to this curse is Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The young actor first crept into the public eye on the late 90s sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. He played Tommy Solomon, a member of a troupe of aliens disguised as humans and sent to our planet to investigate and report on Earthling behaviors. Though he starred in the hit rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You during the show’s run, post 3rd Rock, the fame track seemed rather stalled. JGL experienced a new resurgence after appearing in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a gig that would later land him a part in one of the most anticipated films of this year: The Dark Knight Rises. That coupled with his open collaborative for artists, HitRecord, and parts in upcoming films Premium Rush and Looper have elevated JGL to major mainstream success.
But make no mistake, it was not Christopher Nolan who made a badass front man of this long-haired sprat. Long before Nolan came knocking, before G.I. Joe and 500 Days of Summer, JGL starred in an independent film called Brick from writer/director Rian Johnson. Given that Johnson also wrote and directed Looper, due out later this year, this year represents the poignant close of a full circle for the actor. Brick is now available on Netflix’s Watch Instantly service and proves that JGL was always talented beyond his years.
Of all the contemporary films that have esteemed themselves neo noir, Brick is among the most genuine recreations of the genre. The film is seeped in noir. It breathes thick cigarette smoke and bleeds gunpowder. All the essential elements are alive and well. We have the hardnosed detective with the troubled past chasing down leads in a case involving murder, lies, and conspiracy. He beats information out of sketchy characters and encounters dangerous molls in red all while exchanging refrains of musically pulp dialogue to the sounds of a foreboding jazz score. Oh, and it’s set in a modern day high school.
Sure, it’s a great film, but how specifically does it prove Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s preexisting badassitude? As the protagonist, JGL is not just the vessel by which the audience travels through the story, but he is also the conceptual standard-bearer of the film. He is the single-minded detective who spends a majority of the movie far more determined and in better control of his emotions than any high school student is wont to be. Nefarious, but beautiful women, throw themselves at him, but he shrugs them off, giving them the brush because they can’t be trusted. Gordon-Levitt’s resolve and commitment to this role is remarkably steely.
What’s really phenomenal about his performance, and would so adeptly serve future characters he would play, is that he is absolutely fearless. He bows to no foe, no matter their size or standing on the high school hierarchy. His fight with the football player has similarly unfavorable odds as did Batman’s battle with Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, but JGL proves triumphant. In fact, one of the spectators is coincidentally wearing a hoodie with the word BANE across the front. At one point, he even plays chicken with a speeding car just in the hopes of obtaining information from the driver…he is on foot the whole time.
Brick also showcases Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s natural charisma. True, he is aided somewhat by the jazzy dialogue, but his understanding of the weight and measure of each line is evident in his performance. He’s a magnetic spark that ends up moving through each scene like an electric current. And if you thought all his charisma in Inception was a byproduct of his ability to wear a vest, note his same command of each cinematic beat in Brick without the aid of so much as a decent haircut. When his character is allowed to break, to find that emotional catharsis, JGL dives in and delivers these moments with such power.
Don’t be a sap — take a powder from whatever shady deeds you’ve got afoot and heel it to your Netflix queue to eyeball this cherry flick.