Friday, December 29, 2006

Now Playing: Brick... Since 10/17

The reason for the addendum on the title is that's how long this gem has been on my shelf. Around this time last month I believe Netflix actually called off the search and shifted resources towards recovery. It's given me a great joy to finally sit down and watch it if only out of pride that it be sent back by the close of the year.

Dear God why did I wait so long to watch this magnificent albeit odd gem?

If the thought of Raymond Chandler and film noir in general scares you then do not rent this movie at all. Do not spend any time on it because I can assure you that none of the joy recently visited upon me will find you. This film fires words at the screen with all the firepower of an assault rifle and it doesn't stop until the credits roll. The entire film is a hardened film noir dropped whole hog into a high school setting, and while I would argue that Buffy the Vampire Slayer used the setting to better effect it is nevertheless a bold choice.

Rob Thomas, crafter of Veronica Mars, explained how he set the series in high school because it was the last place where people across all walks of life, i.e. cliques, were actually forced to interact on a day to day basis. Brick would have been the better for it had it actually applied this lesson, but it chose to walk a different path by choosing to not use the setting to its fullest potential. Every single element down to the authority figure and the femme fatale are ripped straight from Chandler's pen and there is no difference between the use of the high school in Brick and the use of, well, any other setting where class warfare is prevalent.

Were the various cliques actually, you know, present in the movie then I would praise it as one of the boldest films of the year. Yet Brick solely focuses on a handful of characters and the lone authority figure, brilliantly played by Richard Roundtree, is limited to a single scene. The phrase "where people lunch" is used repeatedly but nary was a cafeteria in view. The director obviously chose to not have this high school even remotely resemble reality which, when coupled with how limited parents are seen and used in the film, takes away from any sort of authenticity Brick could have achieved. Does this detract from the fun of watching such a dense story unfold?

Absolutely not.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a star-making performance as Brendan, the loner who simply hangs back watching everyone and waiting to graduate so he can move on with his life. You get the feeling that he's just trying to survive high school but that doesn't mean he doesn't have his finger on the local pulse. He knows who the players are in the various cliques and he knows what the score on the street is. Rumors abound of various goings-on behind the scenes and while he may know more than he lets on, he's smart enough to stay out of the way.

All that changes when his ex-girlfriend calls him and says she's in trouble then turns up dead two days later. As he looks at her lfieless body (which is the opening shot by the way), Brendan decides to bring everything down to find out who was responsible.

This is a stunning debut by writer-director Rian Johnson who must have watched The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and Miller's Crossing about a zillion times just to get the flavor exactly right on the dialogue. I was not exaggerating when I said the words fly at you so fast they may as well have been fired at you by a machine gun, so be prepared to rewind and listen again to certain scenes. There are also some laugh out loud funny bits like "The Pin"'s mom fixing Brendan and "The Pin" breakfast. The surreal nature of it just made me howl.

Check out Brick if you're looking for a very unconventional slant on film noir, but stand by with that rewind button. It's a tricky and wordy flick, but fantastic if you're a fan of the genre.

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