Dashiel Hammett or Raymond Chandler had been student filmmakers
and not mature, hardboiled fiction writers, they might have produced
Brick, writer-director (and local boy) Rian Johnson’s
debut film. Johnson snagged the Sundance “originality of vision”
award for Brick, doubtless for setting this murder mystery
cum seedy underbelly film noir in the unlikely surroundings of a
suburban California high school. Shot entirely in the sun-dappled
beach town of San Clemente, Brick is noticeably low budget
and hand held; more money for adequate lighting and better sound
(to showcase the rapid-fire doper/slacker patois) would have helped
immeasurably to follow the twisting, turning noir plot. His protagonist
Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, formerly of 3rd Rock from the
Sun) as a result remains a one-note cipher, his far-fetched
brilliance as a detective unexplained. The teenage gumshoe formulates
a strategy and follows through with improbable alacrity; he lacks
any of the weaknesses (for dames, for dope) that would ensnare a
Jake Gittes or Philip Marlowe and send them down the primrose path
to a more entertaining (for us, anyway) hell. Johnson doesn’t
use the high school milieu as a plot device, with one delicious
exception: Brendan can ascertain anyone’s social status and
probable loyalties with the answer to one question: Who does she
eat it with?
eats by himself, out behind the school by the dumpsters. His past
love Emilie (Emilie DeRavin, recently Claire of Lost) joined
up with him there for a time but baled eventually for a more lively
crew. The film opens with Brendan at the mouth of a drainage tunnel
where he has come upon a dead body--we soon find out the dead girl
is his adored Emily lying dead in the shallow runoff. We backtrack
two days as Brendan takes her distraught call, a frantic plea for
help laced with clues we largely miss because of the inferior sound.
He spends the rest of the film trying to find her; eventually, after
his grim discovery, he embarks on a quest to solve her murder and,
we come to understand, exact his own sweet revenge.
In the meantime,
Johnson takes us on a journey through a demimonde that hums along
parallel to, but never quite intersecting with, the adult world.
Johnson peoples his world almost entirely with the under-18 set,
with the exception of a school vice principal and gang leader “The
Pin’s” mother, who serves milk and cookies to her son’s
buddies . . . er, minions. Gordon-Levitt does his best with a monochromatic
character, and Lucaas Haas is just plain silly as The Pin--overdressed
in a black cape and sporting a cane--and also underwritten. Nora
Zehetner notably stands out, though, as Laura, the cheerleader and
utterly believable femme fatale.
most successful teen flicks know that adult life is just like high
school, with the same unrelenting search for success and acceptance.
Brick misses that point; although Johnson is a promising filmmaker,
but could have used his school for more plot and less set dressing.
Whether Brick is a $10 movie or $4 rental is up to you—just
be sure to visit the website (http://www.brickmovie.net/home.html)
and study the glossary first.
Copyright Web del Sol, 2006