Brick (2005)
March 11, 2018 11:03 AM - Subscribe

A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.

Rolling Stone: Students in a contemporary California high school t talking and butting heads like characters out of the 1940s crime fiction of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. It's a stunt, but a good one, so it should be duck soup for you yeggs. Debuting director and screenwriter Rian Johnson stakes his claim to a potent future in film based on the passion and craft he pours into Brick. A spoof would have been easy. Instead, Johnson plunges off the deep end, risking ridicule by shaping this spellbinder with grit and gravitas. There are times when Johnson loses his balance and his pitch, but in cookie-cutter Hollywood you have to admire a young filmmaker with moxie. "Sensational" is the word for Joseph Gordon-Levitt (equally striking in Mysterious Skin), who as Brendan, the teen outsider who becomes a budding Bogart when his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin) is found dead near a sewer. With the help of his pal the Brain (Matt O'Leary), Brendan ts playing detective. He rubs up against the sexual wiles of two babes, Laura (Nora Zehetner) and Kara (Meagan Good), slaps around a stoner (Noah Segan) in Bogie fashion and — in the film's most thrilling scene — plays matador with a killer car in a parking lot. The trail ultimately leads him to the Pin (Lukas Haas, dead-on creepy), a drug dealer who doesn't lose an ounce of menace just because he lives with his mom. Cinematographer Steve Yedlin gives the film a seductive gleam of danger — just the thing to draw us into Johnson's tantalizing web. Like the Maltese Falcon Hammett made famous, Johnson's Brick is the stuff that dreams are made of.

NYTimes: In a twisty plot that proudly borrows elements from "The Maltese Falcon," "Red Harvest" and other Hammett yarns, Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a teenage Bogart-as-Sam Spade minus the trench coat and fedora, digs into a roiling adolescent underworld of murder and drug dealing. It's all so seamy, sordid, lurid and shocking! And dull, despite a noirish gloss of wide-angle cinematography and a jaundiced, smoggy color scheme.

The Guardian: Johnson's low-budget picture was shot in his somewhat anonymous home town of San Clemente, which straddles the San Diego Highway south of Los Angeles, in the deeply conservative Orange County, and is set in and around the local high school. But to describe Brick as a full-blown noir thriller involving teenagers suggests that it's some kind of whimsical spoof like the slightly creepy Bugsy Malone's take on gangster flicks. Or, at best, that it's parodic in the manner of the 1947 comedy My Favorite Brunette, in which baby photographer Bob Hope stands in for his neighbour, private eye Alan Ladd, or the marvellously postmodern Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, where clips from a dozen 1940s thrillers are woven into a story involving Steve Martin's wisecracking detective. Johnson's movie is, on the surface at least, deadly serious, though extremely funny in its hard-boiled dialogue and generic conceits.

Roger Ebert: Does the movie work on its own terms as a crime story? Yes, in the sense that the classic Hollywood noirs worked: The story is never clear while it unfolds, but it provides a rich source of dialogue, behavior and incidents. Then, at the end, if it doesn't all hold water, who cares as long as all of the characters think it does? "The Big Sleep" is famous for the loophole of a killer who is already dead when he commits his crime.


The mastery of Brick’s opening (annotated by writer-director Rian Johnson)

Watch Brick's Making-Of, Rian Johnson's First Feature Film
posted by MoonOrb (12 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my gosh, I love this movie. And it's on Netflix! Brick is very love-it-or-hate-it, which I know because nearly everyone I watched it with hated it. (I think they got annoyed with the sincerity of the film noir. As in, they kept waiting for the joke and got annoyed that it never came.)

Also, Brick came out around the same time Mysterious Skin ripped my heart out. I remember thinking that the child actor from 3rd Rock From the Sun was doing some really interesting stuff.
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:32 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Update: it is not on Netflix, I lied. Well. It must be playing somewhere, because I rewatched it over Thanksgiving.
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:35 AM on March 11, 2018

Big fan of this movie, but I also love all of its influences. Quite like the unconventional score as well.
posted by kreinsch at 12:39 PM on March 11, 2018

Update: it is not on Netflix, I lied.

Aw, man. . . . .

This is a movie I really need to rewatch - I remember liking it quite a bit when I saw it, but afterwards I was never quite sure if I liked it because it was such a clever reworking of the source material (and being a big fan of the source material), or whether the flick actually worked well on its own.
posted by soundguy99 at 2:53 PM on March 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

The reason this movie works (and is great) is because it is so committed to its style and tone. Once I fell into the rhythm of the film, I loved it. I do remember watching it in the cinema and seeing several people walk out at various parts of the film.

I think it is a brilliant bit of filmmaking carried by its young actors. Always wished Johnson would go onto big things after this and Brothers Bloom. He has succeeded massively but I do hope he goes back to this type of film after Star Wars.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:36 PM on March 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's a pretty good pastiche of noir and high school drama movie, which is quite a feat. It was also incredibly edited, for a movie made with less than 500k.
posted by lmfsilva at 4:42 PM on March 11, 2018

I LOVE this movie. I was a bit resistant to its kitschy dialogue for a bit, and then I trusted and gave in and went along for the ride. So much talent. Suddenly I noticed that JGL is actually an ACTOR. And Johnson! I'd forgotten it was him, but I clearly remember thinking how much I admired his guts and commitment to making this movie THIS movie.
posted by biscotti at 5:17 PM on March 11, 2018

When I was in film school, I became particularly annoyed by the tendency to take classic stories (Shakespeare, Jane Austen, etc.) and remake them in high school so you could have a cast of beautiful teenagers. In my annoyance, I pitched a series project called Apocalypse High, which was indeed Apocalypse Now translated to a Southern California High School. (Because everything's better in high school!)

It was about a student who, after he thinks he's graduated, suddenly discovers he's actually one credit short, and is dragged back by the administration to solve a problem for them. (High school. I can't believe I'm back in high school.) The problem is that the drama club has gone rogue and vanished. Led by their charismatic teacher, they've all adopted the personas of various high school cliques and gone underground. Each episode the hero would root out the missing drama students among the stoners, the sluts, the mathletes, etc. on his way toward the final showdown with the Drama Club Advisor, who he was to terminate with extreme prejudice.

Of course it was treated as the joke it was. And then this. God damn it! This is Apocalypse High, just with a slightly different wellspring. And it's fucking fantastic!

Why did nobody ever listen to me?!? Mr. Darcy, Vampire Hunter would have killed too. Like three years before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies went big.
posted by Naberius at 9:25 AM on March 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

I think the CW would buy a TV show out of that.
posted by lmfsilva at 3:25 PM on March 12, 2018

I really liked Brick. I recently saw Looper, not realizing until I saw it that it was the same writer /director. Looper was awesome. I like what he did with The Last Jedi too.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 5:26 AM on March 13, 2018

Count me as a lover of this film (I’ve also found that a large proportion of people Really Fucking Hate It).

Aside from the jangly, haunting soundtrack (created over a chat app, from a different continent!) and the washed-out Chinatown cinematography, there are a few reasons why the played-for-real mashup of “hardboiled detective fiction” and “high school drama” works so well (at least for me)...

1) The ennui and cynicism that classic Hammett novels exude is a really good match for the aimlessness and unearned worldweariness of adolescence.

2) Fundamentally, being a teenager is already a mystery: Why is the world like it is? Why do I feel like these emotions? Why is he/she treating me like this? You gather clues and make choices and try to piece it all together.

3) The Glass Key and Red Harvest were huge influences on Yojimbo, which was then recycled back into The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and every other film that influenced. The key dynamic is the idea of playing off different factions of bad guys against each other. Brick goes back to the source here, and the dynamic works perfectly, because high school cliques map pretty well to gangs of baddies, especially from the lone wolf / lone nerd perspective taken by the film.

4) And the other part that rang really true for me, as a male who grew up in relative privilege: for many privileged people who don’t seek it out, high school will be the last time that they are exposed to genuine violence and physical threat. Without making any obviously unreasonable choices, I was witnessed and was subjected to some quite shocking violence (and two kids from my high school got murdered). I think people forget how threatening and dangerous high school can be, especially for those outside large social groups, or who get involved in drugs. A lot of teenagers are effectively sociopaths (though for most it’s just a phase), many are already in adult bodies, everyone’s hormones are all over the place, and everyone’s stuck in a building together, by law, for several years. Lots of film and TV focuses on one effect of this: lots of dramatic relationships, lots of sex. Fewer explore the other: lots of violence. The 80s high school baddie in a leather jacket, menacing people in the bathroom with a switchblade, is an archetype based in fact, and Brick brings the menace of high school back to life.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:58 PM on March 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

For me this was like a movie-length version of the 'fuck' scene from The Wire: admirable more than enjoyable, for all its qualities.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:25 PM on March 13, 2018

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