High School Confidential

I walked into BRICK completely unaware of the world I was entering. I had seen the trailer and heard about how this was a film noir murder-mystery in a high school setting. I was completely unprepared for just how deep the noir waters ran. From the dialogue (full of tough guy shorthand), to the character ‘types’, this film exists in a world completely unto itself. First time writer director Rian Johnson fully committed to his unique idea, and the film is a refreshing and deeply rewarding blast of indie spirit.

I didn’t fall in love with BRICK right away. The elevated speech took time to get used to, and the opening section was confusing. The film begins with our hero (Brendan) crouching near the body of a dead girl. We jump back two days prior and I expected the film to finish up back with the dead girl. Brendan navigates through an thick web of pretty girls, outcasts, jocks and muscleheads. But only a half hour later, we’re back with the dead body.
Turns out, all that confusion is just the wind up. Brendan announces “I’m gonna start shaking things up.” That’s when the movie really takes off. From here on out BRICK follows a clear path to solving the mystery and dealing out justice.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as Brendan. This isn’t an imitation of Humphrey Bogart, but in his own original way Levitt embodies Bogart’s morality, ethics and street-smart attitude. No easy task, Gordon-Levitt announces himself to be a truly talented artist whose skills are only beginning to be utilized. (His work in MYSTERIOUS SKIN was solid and fearlessness, but this is even better.) His approach sets the right tone for a small microcosm of bright young actors.
One of BRICK’s greatest delights is just how absorbing the actual story is. With this much style, BRICK could work as a homage to films like THE BIG SLEEP, but like L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, the mystery upholds all the conventions of the genre while presenting a fresh story. This isn’t just old wine in a new bottle.
For the most part Johnson does a really professional job. His camera technique isn’t brash, but it’s far from dull. (Amazingly, the entire picture cost less than $500,000). His one dodgy area is with the character known as The Pin. He’s the boss, the Kingpin that everybody listens to. (In a great touch, The Pin has a disabled foot so that he always sports a sinister cane.) However, The Pin works out of his mom’s basement, which leads to some scenes involving the mother that are cute, but play with a sly wink the rest of the picture avoids.

BRICK also has a ruthlessly aggressive sound mix that irked me a little. I know many people enjoyed that the punches sounded like bone-crackers, but it felt like these people would be dead if their body really made that sound. There’s a foot chase where almost all sounds are eliminated except for the two people with their distinctive steps. It’s an interesting notion, but eventually I’m too aware that this sequence was created by guys slapping shoes in a sound room. (I won’t spoil the sound that ends the chase, but I think it could have been dialed down about 25% and still gotten the desired reaction.)

BRICK plays nicely as one of those movies remembered even more fondly afterwards. It plays very mainstream. (Even more so than the similar BETTER LUCK TOMORROW). With the right marketing and word-of-mouth, this could enjoy the breakout success of MEMENTO and TRAINSPOTTING. I definitely recommend checking it out.


Anonymous Skid said...

Once again, I fully agree with your review. I think "Brick" is the most enjoyable film I've seen this year.

12:30 PM  

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