Friday, February 22, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Brick (2005)

Here I go away from horror movies again, and this time I'm into something a little different for me. I guess you could say I've been in a different phase of late, trying new things and having a good time all around. Now, I know Brick is a relatively obscure movie. I certainly had never heard of Brick before, or of Rian Johnson, the film's director. Now, if you recognize that name at all, you probably recognize it from Looper, a  recent movie I haven't seen but have heard excellent things about. The problem is that Brick was Rian Johnson's directorial debut, and what a debut it was. I say "the problem" because I will never remember Rian Johnson for Looper, no matter how good it may or may not be. I will instead remember him for Brick, forever and always.

Brick is an incredibly interesting film, basically a high school drama/thriller with some comedic elements done in the style of 1940s era film noir movies. That's not saying the movie looks or acts like a film noir, not exactly. Instead the movie is a little inconsistent (This is not a bad thing.), with dialogue and characters very reminiscent of film noir, but situations and settings consistent with an entirely different movie, something more like a teenage drama, comedy, or thriller (if the teenage thriller genre even exists, which I'm pretty sure it doesn't). I love early film noir, stuff like The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and basically anything and everything that starred either Humphrey Bogart or John Garfield in that era of film. These movies defined that era, defined an entire age, and became the centerpiece of what a male, a hardboiled male, really was. I know it's a gender role and whatnot, but man, how can you not like to watch Humphrey Bogart being snappy with dialogue and cool with women? And how can a man not want to emulate that? I know I did/do. It's hard to see a more masculine man, to me at least.

But Brick is different, very different, WHOLLY different, from those kinds of films. It fits a little bit better as a neo-noir, but even that is a tough place to define it. It takes the genre apart certainly, but it also stands absolutely brilliantly on its own, simultaneously showing the hardships of high school life and the relative ease and childishness of it as well. It nearly compares a high school kid's problems to that of a tough no-nonsense detective, and the results are... interesting to say the least. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition between those two very different kinds of people. I enjoyed how Brendan, our protagonist, went about solving his problems in both a straightforward and highly convoluted manner. He simultaneously made things more difficult for himself while also doing the very best he could to determine the best outcome available to him. The movie had all the regular tropes of a film noir: the femme fatale, the antihero detective, the intelligent and informed friend, the boss of some kind of shady organization, a wrongly accused person, being set up, and manipulation all over the place. All of these things help make this movie more enjoyable with every moment you watch it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines as the main character Brendan Frye. I've always liked the man as an actor, and he doesn't disappoint here, bringing full life to this character and to the situations of the story. He is believable and works well as a person both resourceful and intelligent. I don't know if I've ever seen another performance by him that I've liked anywhere near as much. And I've liked him in a fair few roles. The fact that he states the dialogue, often very noir-ish dialogue, with such conviction is a point in his (and this movie's) favor. The humorous, and often unsettling, thing about this movie is that despite the dialogue, the characters act very much like high school kids. Despite what they do, what they say, and everything else, there is a constant reminder that they are young, with Brendan telling his friend "Brain" important information all while dancing around and balancing on top of a wall. Or an important meeting happening over a drug kingpin's mother making cookies and giving Brendan something to drink.

It's almost surreal in a way, certainly comparable to The Third Man, which I often cite as one of the oddest movies of this type from the film noir era. Brick moves at such an odd pace, but never feels bad. You never question the quality, even if the situations are almost ridiculous- or are certainly ridiculous.

I have to mention Zora Zehetner's performance as Laura Dannon, the classic film-noir woman, as being one of the highlights of this film. She simulteously makes you hate her and love her with her performance. There was never a moment I didn't enjoy her on screen. Her acting was brilliant from beginning to end. The last few scenes she's in with Brendan are some of the very best, if not the very best, of this movie, if not almost all other neo-noir films in general. I don't think I've ever felt so sorry for a high school girl character before while despising her in the same breath. Noah Fleiss as Tug is amazing as well, really showing a performance worthy of praise. He has a look in his eyes the entire movie that shrieks DANGER to me as the viewer. There was never a single moment I trusted his character, but I loved the way that character was portrayed. He was sympathetic even if he was also despicable and terrifying. I also very much enjoyed the performances by Meagan Good as Kara and Noah Segan as Dode. Both characters added a great deal to the movie and character motivations. Kara, especially, becomes one of the best nearly sociopathic characters I have ever seen in a movie. And the sad thing is, when I was in drama club back in high school, I knew girls just like her, girls who would do nearly anything to get ahead. Dode is also a wonderful character, showing yet another social clique in the high school environment and representing that very well.

And that's one of the best things about this movie, while a film noir, it shows high school cliques and groups as well as any movie I've ever watched before. The accuracy of that depiction, despite the dialogue, is astounding. Honestly, the characters, social moments, dialogue, and settings are really the high points of the movie. The plot is pretty well done also, but never quite reaches the upper pinnacle of storytelling. It is well done, sometimes predicable, but also has elements of surprise to it. I kind of wish Emily, Brendan's ex-girlfriend, wasn't shown to be dead in the opening of the movie, which occurs in medias res. I think it would have been more surprising to see her show up dead without pre-knowledge of her death and more impacting besides. That being said, the way the movie is structured is clearly referential to earlier film noir, so it's not something I can complain about all that much.

This movie is literally brilliant from beginning to end. It's a movie for somebody who's looking for something different: great acting, an obviously indie film, and mostly a really good juxtaposition between ideas that don't usually go together. I can't really say much else. I recommend that everybody check this out. I also have to say that I wouldn't have ever even heard about this movie if not for seeing a fantastic preview trailer for this film before I watched Doom. It's pretty rare that a trailer makes me want to watch a movie, but Brick's trailer was so amazingly well done, I had no choice but to find this film at any cost and watch it. I suggest that anybody can watch this film an enjoy it. It doesn't have a lot of gore, no nudity, a few blood stains and such, but nothing really all that terrible. The dialogue alone is worth the price of the movie, and the performances are worth even more. While it's a bit of an oddball movie, it's one that really needs to be watched. It's deconstruction of both high school and noir is a pleasure to behold.

I also get the feeling that the movie might leave a few confused. Don't be. It's relatively easy to understand. A girl, Emily, is seeking help from her loner of an ex-boyfriend. She trusts him to look after her even if she doesn't love him anymore. She asks for help, and he does what he can even after she tells him to leave her alone. He is committed to helping her in anyway he can because he still cares about her despite himself. She shows up dead at a meeting place, and Brendan, our protagonist, hides the body and starts investigating anybody Emily could have been involved with, eventually leading him to a drug lord called "The Pin," a gang leader called "Tug," and a high school girl who has her own motives by the name of Laura. The central point of the film is for Brendan to find who killed Emily and to get even. He eventually learns that she was set up, being implicated in stealing a brick (of the title) of heroin from "The Pin." He also learns that Emily was with a bunch of different guys, Tug and Dode included, and that she was more than likely pregnant, which was the reason, on top of other things, why she was killed. The last moments of the film are spent on Brendan getting even with the person who ultimately set Emily up in the first place, and it is an amazing scene. I'm not giving spoilers out. Go watch the movie if it sounds interesting and you haven't seen it yet. It's good enough to not be spoiled.

And... yeah. That's about it. It was a wonderful movie, far outside my expertise in reviewing, but also really a great watch. It is probably one of the very best films I've seen in quite a long time, and easily the best non-horror/non-franchise film I've seen in quite a while.

Check it out. Seriously.

1 comment:

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