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After Emily's death, Brendan starts looking for answers in earnest, slicing through high school society and the underbelly of suburban California like a weedwacker. Much like the detectives played by Humphrey Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep" this battered tough-guy keeps shaking the tree until the answers he wants fall out. His search leads him to the rich femme fatale Laura Dannon (Nora Zehetner), an underworld kingpin (Lukas Haas), and a handful of assorted thugs in a completely amoral teenage world. Battered physically and emotionally, he maintains his cool while playing all sides against each other in an effort to achieve some justice for the girl he loved.
In "Brick," writer/director Rian Johnson pays homage in wonderful style to the classics of noir fiction. Setting the story in the world of high-schoolers allows him to make use of classic detective story characters without seeming redundant. We have a beautiful seductress with ambiguous motives, a dangerous vamp (played brilliantly by Meagan Good, which sounds like a porno name for some reason), a crime boss and his hired muscle, and even a Vice Principal who fills the role of the police captain. Of course, Brendan is the classic loner private eye, moving through a world of scum but never allowing the dirt to get under his skin.
Language is both the strength and weakness of "Brick." Johnson drew heavily from the fiction of Dashiell Hammet (creator of Sam Spade) when writing the film, and that spare, 1940's style permeates the dialog. Suffice to say that these kids do not talk like high-schoolers. That's fine, because a stylized manner of speech suits these extremely cool, stylized characters and sets the proper mood. On the other hand, while the story of "Brick" is not wildly original, it is an excellent, riveting piece of noir fiction which deserves to be appreciated on its own merits and not just in reference to old Bogart movies. The Bogartesque lingo is entertaining, but it occasionally distracts from the story. Also, the linguistic style may simply be confusing and off-putting to audiences not familiar with the older films on which it is based.
Interestingly, none of the principal cast members were familiar with the literary and film sources from which their characters were drawn. This is remarkable, because their characterizations are so dead on, and given without a trace of the self-conscious irony that so often passes for wit. Joe Gordon-Levitt in particular deserves to be a star after this performance. He appears in every scene of the film, channeling the best of Humphrey Bogart.
"Brick" won a special Jury Prize at Sundance, and my understanding is that it has, in fact, been picked up for distribution. I suspect that despite its quality, it may have difficulty finding an audience. I hope I am wrong, because it was by far the best film I have seen this year. 5 out of 5 stars.
Brick is a not a film as much as a symphony where each instrument is tuned to the beat of the conductor. Each frame is carefully orchestrated and composed to perfection. The dialogue is metered and spoken with a contemporary Shakespearean beat. Writer/Director Rian Johnson has created poetry with his first feature length film. It may be tough to understand the lingo and overall speech used, but as the film advances you begin to know the characters and the words just make complete sense.
We open with the stare of our protagonisthard and piercing, yet on the verge of tearseyes slowly welling up as he peers down on a motionless body, facedown in a tunnel's steady, flowing stream. This is film noir at its best: wrong men and notorious women. Our leader into this underbelly of society has recently rolled on his boss to skate clean of a drug deal he was involved with. The cops allow this plea and decide to keep him in their pocket, with what happened as leverage. He stays low, nose clean, until an old love brings him into her world as it's spiraling out of control. Using all his resources around the city, he begins his search to find her and make sure she is OK. He does this for his own means, with a stoicism that hearkens back to Bogart's Sam Spade.
Wait Did I tell you that the city this is set in is a suburban high school? Johnson has flipped the genre on its head to brilliant effect. Brendan, our medium into the story, is played to perfection by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a senior at the school who has alienated himself by ratting on his drug supplier. The vice-principal is using him to gain intel on the dealings around school, but Brendan will have none of it. He needs to find out what happened to his old flame Emily and see what she got involved in. Enlisting the help of a colleague, Brendan plays his enemies off each other to gain access to the mob boss and dope runner The Pin ("I hear he's supposed to be old, like 26"), whom Emily has wronged. The truth must be found at all costs, either to assuage some personal guilt, to rescue love, to do what's right, to get the bad guys, or maybe all the above. The search for answers leads to betrayal and secrets uncovered and I was there for the entire ride.
Brick is not the 21st century's answer to Alan Parker's Bugsy Malone. This isn't a satire on mob life with children playing men. This is a reawakening of the genre, a subversion of what you expect of it, but played straight as a razor. None of these actors break character and lines like this, echoing a hardened criminal telling off an over-zealous officer, "No more of these informal chats! If you have a disciplinary issue with me, write me up or suspend me and I'll see you at the Parent-Teacher conference," are delivered with straight faces and a piercing confidence. The wit is there and you will laugh to the seeming absurdity, but the weight of the story holds strong. Well-placed humor helps you realize the gravity of everything even more.
Levitt shines in the role and proves to be the best up-and-coming actor of his generation. Following pitch-perfect turns as a violent teen in the wonderful Manic and as a teenage hustler, vagrant in Gregg Araki's disturbing yet unforgettable Mysterious Skin, Levitt is making bold choices and continues a great run with Brick. He is flanked with solid support from "Lost's" Emilie de Ravin as his lost love; Lukas Hass as The Pin, with loyalty straying muscle Noah Fleiss; Matt O'Leary's The Brain, Brendan's life-line to what's happening as he sinks deeper; and Nora Zehetner flawlessly playing the femme fatale which one can never be sure whether to trust. Also, the accompanying score of piano and brass jazz fits perfectly to the atmosphere, especially on a late scene close-up shot of Levitt and Zehetnerfaces close- up, lips with an atom of air between them, and a single tear slowly following down the contours of her faceuncannily mimicking the infamous shot of Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca.
Any cinephile with $8 to spend will regret missing an opportunity to see this film. If you love film noir of the 50's, 60's, and 70's check Brick out while you can. Doubtful that it will stay up more than 2 or 3 weeks, it will be coming to DVD on August 8th, however go out and see this gem. It will not be everyone's cup of tea, but whether you love it or not, it holds a place on the timeline of cinema as an experiment in stripping down the essence of noir and showing it in a new and no longer angelic world of children on the cusp of adulthood. "Here's looking at you kid."
The effect is staggering. BRICK essentially re-creates a world we thought we knew. Suddenly there are forces at work that we recognize because we knew they were there. But to see them in this noir glow is to give them an exciting new life ... "to see them again for the first time." There are plot twists and surprises aplenty here, although familiar once you realize the inspirations for the film. But familiarity is more than compensated by a superb cast and (not generally noted in these comments) excellent music. Contemporizing the soundtrack keeps us on our toes and makes a significant contribution to the tension of BRICK.
A terrific debut!
And I also consider myself one of the more experienced,open-minded movie-lovers...
But this film? Come on... I thought it was extremely boring, confusing, and full of really badly articulated and impossibly hard to understand(not only because of the language that was used, but mainly because they did not speak but mumble throughout),right from the start.
I wanted to give the film a chance though, convinced the genius aspect that I had missed so far, was still coming up, and that right then and there I would fully understand the greatness of the film.
Only that didn't happen...
I found myself not caring what happened to any of the characters in the movie, and it touched me in no way whatsoever...
Why?Why?Why? Why do people love this movie? What have I missed? You now I am typing these questions, but don't answer them,please. I really don't care...
Just a little advice...Don't waste your time on this piece of you know what...
"Brick" is original in the sense that there are no other stylized neo-noir films set in high school, but it lacks originality in all other areas. Rian Johnson's (who is clearly, based on this film, a very talented director) direction is almost too inspired by classic noir for the film to work in its own right. It's certainly pretty to look at, and quite well-paced, but it's far too concerned with being an homage to bother with feeling genuine. The same could be said of the plot, characters, and dialogue, which are all so 'inspired' by Raymond Chandler and countless other sources that they seem far more interested in packing in homage after allusion after homage after allusion than telling a story. The story itself is mildly interesting, and some of the plot twists and turns got an 'ooh' out of me, but the whole thing feels completely phony and soulless. The sort of thing that would have been fun as a 10-minute short for film class, but is incredibly frustrating as a feature.
The acting is good from everybody involved, and Rian Johnson's shot composition is excellent, as well as the cinematography by Steve Yedlin and the score by Nathan Johnson. The script is outrageously silly and over-the-top, but at least the film is nice to look at.
A noir story in a high school setting is a reasonable idea, and this film could have been quite good, but instead of working in all the staples of a noir Johnson instead goes all out and makes something so frustratingly derivative and intensely stylized that it doesn't for a second feel plausible. No, I'm not looking for realism here, just some form of plausibility and believability. Do you question the world of "Star Wars"? Do you question the persistently stylized dialogue in classic noir films? No, of course you don't, because they feel genuine. Above everything else, "Brick" is completely phony. Not a second feels real, and by the tenth time Joseph Gordon-Levitt attempted a Marlowe routine I was already shaking my head in disbelief at the waste of talent this film was. It's so phony and so gimmicky that it becomes genuinely hard to sit through.
Unbelievably pretentious dialog, and 'hipster' speech. I thought that kind of talk died in the 1970s.
The mindset of the teenagers, trying to put forth this 'world' they supposedly live in, in a high school setting just doesn't fly. It's like a very, very bad high school play, painfully aware that these are just kids trying to be something they're not, never have been, and never will be. Even high school at it's worst was never that bad. Seriously, this film gives you respect for the portrayal of high school in Beverly Hills 90201, which at least had *some* believability to it, even if you didn't like it. In most films, with good or bad acting, I'm generally not aware that they are acting. Not the case here.
Pretension takes an even worse form in the wardrobes. I didn't check the spoilers box, and I'm new at this, so I'll be vague. All I'll say, is that I stopped the film and gave up at the introduction of a character, who was dressed too stupid for me to watch. (those reading this who have seen the film probably can guess who I'm talking about, lets just say he made the film a CAPEr)
You've got to have some respect for the audience This director, clearly doesn't. As for those who say that people who didn't like the film 'didn't get it', ie, modern film noir, compare this to 'Match Point', made the same year. This film is just a very tired rip-off of whatever it was trying to reference.
The saddest thing is, since the film had popularity, there may be outsider kids who try to model some of this style in their own high schools, and it's going to take them down another notch they cant afford
It's overly knowing, references films to which it's the palest of pale imitations, tediously shot, and it's fairly obvious that the only direction the actors were given were a bunch of magic markers and a pack of valium. Should not be watched by anyone under the age of 20 (will make them think they're cleverer than they really are) or over the age of 20 (risk of dangerously high blood pressure).
I hastily bought a ticket to 'Brick' at the Sundance Film Festival, knowing nothing about it but what was written in the Sundance catalog. I almost didn't go to the 9:15am screening but I am so glad I did. 'Brick' was by far the best of the eight films I'd seen up until then. It's one of those rare movies that keeps me grinning throughout, delighted by every turn of the grim plot.
The slang is thick but contextual. Watch closely for little camera tricks like a clock that reads 5:45 until it comes into focus and suddenly reads 8:30.
Very disappointing. Went home and watched Veronica Mars instead. Equally unbelievable but far more engaging.
I don't know why this keeps happening to me lately where I keep running into movies that've been overly hyped.
I don't know what the deal is -- do people just want to like a movie so badly they say it's good even if it's not? Another movie that fits that bill for me right now was "Drive". Everybody kept talking about how good it was, and all I saw was a shameless rip off of "The Driver" starring Ryan O'Neal, except for the fact that "The Driver" was actually good while "Drive" put me to sleep.
I understand what this movie was trying to go for with the whole "neo-noir" thing, but I don't really think it succeeded. The dialogue was so garbled and incoherent, I could hardly understand what was being said.
I don't know what others saw in this, but I just wasn't impressed. At best, I'd give it probably a four or five out of ten. I don't recommend checking this movie out.
In truth the film is slightly better than a 1, but is just so irritating in how smart it thinks it is that it needs bringing down a peg or two.
Brick tries so hard to be a film noir of the 30s that it puts the slang of the 30s into the mouths of current-day high school kids. This is fun for a few moments, but quickly becomes silly. High school kids don't call each other "shamus" or go "on the lam", etc. If it was set in a 30s high school, that could work. But having period dialog in a current-day movie is just strange, not interesting.
Then there's the length. Film noir tended to be short: 90 minutes... not 2 hours! If you're trying to copy film noir, how about copying the length so that it doesn't become boring? This film could easily have been cut down by at least 30 minutes and wouldn't have dragged so much.
The production values were also spotty. In an overly-long final scene, the sky is so bright that the character is washed out completely.
But the real problem is that this film doesn't know what it really wants to be. Is it taking place in a high school or not? The characters don't interact at all like high school kids. They interact as if they're playing a grade-b film noir and are adult cops and robbers. The high school setting is a backdrop that isn't really used at all. None of the activities or dynamics of a high school appear anywhere in the film. Instead, we get scenes where the Vice Principal (whom they call the VP) calls the protagonist into his office as if he were a police commander talking to a renegade officer. It just doesn't work. The gimmick gets old quickly, and we're left with nothing else.
This would have made a good novelty short, but it fails as feature film.
This is just an example of how a movie should be made, and I don't say things like that lightly.
Hell, you know it's going to be interesting when Neilson can only compare and contrast it with things like Memento and Donnie Darko on their little questionnaire. Rock on for intelligent life out there, keep it coming! I for one can't wait till it's released so I can watch for the things I know I missed! -Cognac
Lukas Haas, the cute kid in "Witness" is now a freak, suitable for David Lynch films. He and the rest of the cast seem to be asleep.
Whoever edited this -- probably the director -- ought to be shot. And by the way, smoke does not come out of a person's head when they are shot... this only happens only in bad movies.
This should be in the student category, not the professional feature film category. I want my money back.