Written and directed by Erik C. Bloomquist
In 2005, writer-director Rian Johnson exploded onto the film scenes with one of the most unique movie experiences in recent memory by delivering Brick, a neo-noir set in a Californian public high school. The story featured a cast of talented young actors spewing spiffy dialogue, and their characters getting into deep and dark trouble befitting of the sort of yarns told back in the 1940s and 1950s, only that is was happening in a modern setting and at school. It was fresh whilst calling back to film noir of yore. A decade later, writer-director Erik Bloomquist tries his own hand in similar but not identical fashion with The Cobblestone Corridor, a short film (25 minutes) transpiring in the confines of a private high school.
Allan Archer (Bloomquist) is the editor in chief of the institution’s newspaper, The Gazette. Intelligent, intuitive and just a little smarmy, Allan leads a team of newbie journalists to produce the best paper possible to its readership, limited though it may be in the age of instant news supplied via the smart phones and tablets. One night, while hammering away on his typewriter (and listening to film noir age jazz music on a record player!), a knock is heard on the office door. Enter Elizabeth Merriweather (Madeleine Dauer), a fellow student, popular among the lads, who drops a knowledge bomb on Allan’s desk: recently expelled English department chairman, Dr. Peter Carroll, believed to have been caught selling drugs to students, may have been the victim of a conspiracy. Aroused by the thrill of the hunt, Andy’s investigative journalism instincts kick in as he sets off to uncover the truth.
The Cobblestone Corridor delivers a fine piece of mystery storytelling, slickly packaged as a modern noir, constantly performing a fun balancing act between keeping the story set very much in the modern world and calling back to the delightful tropes of yesteryear filmmaking, sometimes in the dialogue, sometimes in the characterizations and even in the cinematography. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is to pack in as much punch as it can within a scant 25 minutes. Noir tales are infamous for how convoluted their plots can be at times, so the road to success in Cobblestone Corridor is to give the viewer a clear enough idea of what Andy is on the prowl for without ever getting bogged down in cumbersome details, not to mention that character is almost always at the forefront of the noir style, not necessarily the plot. The latter is more of an excuse to develop the former, and thankfully the director has a firm handle on matters, delivering an amusing and rapid fire crash course in what makes a noir in a style palatable to modern audiences that just might be curious enough to check out one of the cinema’s most glorious eras.
As is so often the case with noir, what viewers take away from Bloomquist’s picture is the characterization and the quirky sense of style. Bloomquist himself is tasked with a trio of shoes to fill, from writer to director to star. In a display of sheer creativity and impressive flexibility, he successfully guides the picture from both behind and in front of the camera, infusing Allan Archer with the requisite cockiness and daring that one would imagine from a prep school student that has successfully made his way in the ranks, becoming one of the institution’s leading figures thanks to his position as editor of the newspaper. In the opening narration, he rattles off a series of brilliant coups of investigative journalism that directly led to several mysteries and scandals becoming exposed on school grounds. His early victories have earned him both the respect of those who wish to have their hand in the publication and the scorn of those who view Archer distrustfully, annoyed or even fearing that his sudden appearance implies that they are to become new victims of unenviable attention. It’s just as easy to like him as it is to hate him, therefore making him a great lead in a neo-noir and a terrific foil for whomever happens to be pulling the strings in the case of Dr. Carroll’s firing.
The Cobblestone Corridor is rounded out by its delightful supporting cast as well, chief among them Nicholas Tucci, whom some genre movie fans might recall as one of the home invaders from You’re Next, here playing Dr. Carroll’s successor. The role of the pseudo-femme fatale is stylishly filled by Madeleine Dauer, who walks the fine line between someone who may genuinely have altruistic motivations but who just as plausibly may be hoping to profit in some fashion from the investigation. All the cast members deliciously adhere to noir’s lovable tropes while providing the characters with their own voice.
All in all, the film is an entertaining, pleasingly produced ode to a classic filmmaking style that aficionados and newcomers alike can appreciate. Time will tell what Erick Bloomquist has up his sleeve, but if The Cobblestone Corridor is any indication, here comes a filmmaker with gusto and talent to boot.