Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Director Rian Johnson’s ‘Brick’ is, if nothing else, unique.  That in itself is almost enough to force anyone, in this sea of sequels, TV show remakes, thinly veiled rehashes, and comic book dumps run out and see this thing.  Being unique unto itself doesn’t make ‘Brick’ a good movie either, which is what we are here to examine.

‘Brick’ is one of the few movies that I went into watching having no idea what it’s about.  I don’t know who’s in it, or the plotline, director, nothing.  So about five minutes in, when the characters start to talk, it actually takes me a while to understand completely what the hell they were saying.  I mean I hear the words that are coming out of the mouths of these southern California high school kids, but the words aren’t going together right.  Now I can’t remember exactly what Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) actually said, but it was then that the light went on.  Oh, this kids a gumshoe, a private-dick in a world where there are dames and dolls and we call women toots.  I ask you what time should we be there and instead of saying four o’clock you say ‘when the little hand is between the three and the five and the big hand is on the twelve, and don’t be late’.  You don’t say ‘that girl is cute’, you say ‘She’s the kind of woman that when she smiles she reminds you how good you mama’s buttermilk biscuits were.’  Okay,

I’m all about it now.  We’re in a world where why use two words when a paragraph is always better.  I’ve read enough Hammet and McDonald and Leonard to know how this routine goes.  And Lord knows I’ve seen enough Humphrey, Jimmy and Edward G to have an idea how this is supposed to be done.  Give to me Johnson, let’s see what you got.

It’s actually pretty damn clever and cool the way it’s setup.  Brendan has always loved Emma (Emilie De Raven), but she has since left him for small time drug dealer Dode (Noah Segan).  But Emma gets into trouble and she has one person to reach out to and that would be Brendan, and then she disappears.  Brendan finds her, but now he has a mystery to solve.  Brendan used to be in the game, but he got out with a little help from Vice Principle Trueman (Richard Roundtree), who likes to keep Brendan around as his man on the street, but Brendan is nobody’s fink. 

Since Brendan used to be in the game, his need to get back into the game to get the clues to Emma’s murder shouldn’t cause too much suspicion, but it does come with some black eyes and bruised ribs.  He knows the case hinges on the Emmas’ relationship with the schools drug supplier Pin (Lukas Haas) and Pin’s Frank Nitti – Tugger (Noah Fliess).  Oh yeah, toss in the femme fatale pulling the strings (Nora Zehettner), the madam with the 411 and the heart of stone (Meghan Good), the dumb jock (Brian White) and the info guy who knows everything, with almost no one knowing him (Matt O’Leary).  Times running out, and suspicions are running high, leaving the question will Brendan solve the murder before the murderer solves him.

‘Brick’ is slick, crafty, clever, beautifully shot, wonderfully realized, empty, cold and soulless.  It’s like a sculpture that was crafted by a master technician, amazing to look at, but leaving you with no emotional attachment.  This may or may not be good thing, I don’t know.  The characters individually seemed as if they existed only for the point of this exercise and it was difficult to connect emotionally to any of them.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt did give a very good performance since his Brendan is the fulcrum that the story rocks on, but even his character was fairly superficial.  That being said, it’s fairly amazing to witness what Rian Johnson was able to accomplish with his cast of twenty something high school kids, as I don’t think he could have tracked down nearly enough actual high school kids to pull of the complexity of the dialog.  Obviously, normal people don’t talk this way, and similar to Shakespearian prose, the onus is on the actors not only to recite the dialog convincingly, but to actually understand what they are talking about, meaning speaking with the right rhythm because if they don’t it will come across as fake.  I think they pull it off for the most part, but there were a few times where I could not understand what they were saying as there simply wasn’t enough space between the dialog which is directly attributed to rhythm.

The narrative flowed well enough though, and similar to the potboilers back in the day there’s numerous characters, red herrings, double crosses and unsatisfied resolutions.  Due to the overall uniqueness of ‘Brick’ it would have to suck real hard for me to not recommend this thing, because Lord knows that this an industry which pretty much frowns upon anything different.  I’m pleased to say that ‘Brick’, despite some unevenness in certain areas in not only worth viewing, but should be required viewing as it is that rare truly risky venture.  At least that’s until ‘Brick 2’ comes out I suppose.

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