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The Next PTA Meeting Is Gonna Be Hell

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Dir: Rian Johnson

Brick just reeks of film school know-how. But, it works, and what’s worse, I liked it.

This is a film noir set in a high school — think Chinatown meets The Breakfast Club. All the characters are archetypes from different eras; you’ve got the 1940s femme fatale, the 50s’ greaser, right up to the muscle-shirted, ball-capped ignoramus of present day. The lingo is hip, and bordering on unintelligible at times – it’s a long way from Dawson’s Creek.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, a kid who’s too smart for his own good. He’s the Phillip Marlowe of sophomores, using his street-wise skills to figure out who murdered his former girlfriend, Emily. He has dealings with drug-pushers like The Pin, the violent Tuggs, and the stoned Dodd, as well as help from his sidekick, The Brain. Gordon-Levitt, with his hair obscuring his face most of the time, isn’t a teenager any more, but he looks the part and gives a strong performance. He’s more Elliott Gould from The Long Goodbye than Bogart from The Big Sleep, but he holds the film together.

Third lens flare from the sun

The setting for Brick is California, and the endless and ugly urban sprawl that dominates the suburbs. It’s an unattractive and lonely world, characters are small against vast urban spaces of concrete parking lots. Along with shooting with a wide angle lens, director Rian Johnson also avoids the California sunshine, often shooting his exteriors on overcast days, or at dusk. Thus Brick technically doesn’t look like a film noir, but it has its own style that works nicely to portray a gloomy atmosphere. Not that it’s all doom and gloom however, there is actually a fair amount of humour, which saves the film from taking itself too seriously.

Brendan and The Brain

While many independent films these days tends to push the envelope in showing violence, or having quirky plot devices that are only used as a way to gain internet publicity, Brick shows a great amount of restraint. In fact, most of the violence – well, the really bad stuff anyway – is shown off camera.

This is no time for paddy-cake, guys, we've got a drug-deal to get through first

Only two adults appear in Brick, Richard Roundtree as the vice principal (who I would certainly be scared of) and The Pin’s woefully over-nourishing, and delusional mother. In this way the film allows a bit of social critique (like any good film noir). Where are the adults? Who are guiding these kids? I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a modern Lord of the Flies, but there are certainly some parallels.

Brick is one of those movies you either get behind or you don’t. This is a world dominated by teens, they act the way teens in the real world think they act: like adults with all the problems adults have, when actually, they’re just posing. It’s actually the kind of film that teens themselves make all the time: tortured love stories with drugs, and death and gangsters, but Johnson brings the eye of an adult to the piece, and demonstrates an acute sense of style.

Johnson takes his characters seriously, and Brick never feels like a cheap trick, or a neat idea that can’t sustain itself. It fuses two genres, the teen flick with the film noir and demonstrates that there is much more to say about teenage-hood than movies like American Pie and their ilk have to offer. llewopemearg

Sorry sweetheart, I'm wearing this white shirt whether you like it or not

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, August 16, 2006 10:28 am

    I saw this a couple of weeks ago, and I was considering doing a little write-up myself, but yours’ll do. I basically agree with the opinion — it’s a good movie, definitely an interesting movie, and one I think I’ll like more with repeat viewings, where the detail and delivery of the lines can sink in with help from their anticipation.

    There are a couple of points where we differ, though: I don’t think there was any social commentary — I don’t tend to find “commentary” to be a trait of film noir in general. They use elements of the dirtiest sides of society as tools of plot and tone, but I don’t think they’re trying to deliver a message, and I don’t think Brick is either.

    And on that, I don’t like the mother — Shaft’s good, because his “adult” works as a part of the noir: he’s the Law. But the mother yanks away the noir and says: “Hey, they’re just stupid kids! Ha ha! Kids, I tell ya!” So, even if I did agree that film noir was a forum for social proselytizing, I don’t think Brick did it — the VP character continues the noirness, the Mom makes a joke about it.

    But at least you got your opinion right.

  2. Thursday, August 17, 2006 10:12 am

    Thinking about your comment regarding The Pin’s mother, I can see your point, it did rip you out of the story for a moment. The gag with The Pin’s mini-van limo also did this, but I think it worked better.

    As far as social commentary in film noir goes – no, I don’t think Brick is a ‘message movie’ but I think film noir in general lends itself to social critique by its very nature. A lot of the classic noirs were a result of dis-illusionment with society after WW2, threat of communism etc. Mind you, yeah, there ain’t much except plot (and a confusing one at that) in The Big Sleep, but in Touch of Evil, while heavy on style, mood and plot, there’s all kinds of things going on about racism, drug use, police corruption. I think the thing about noir is that it all sort of hangs out in the open, rarely is their any subtext (except for David Lynch stuff – but who has the time to really analyse David Lynch??).

    However, while I think Brick’s director is mainly interested in telling a good story, there are definitely peeks into the various strata of LA suburban life – not too deep mind you, but enough that it got me thinking about what these kids lives are like and why they are the way they are. They are just ‘kids’ after all.

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