Sometimes lost in the shuffle of attempting to analyze a film’s cinematography, score, editing and all that other fun stuff that make up movies, is that at their heart they are meant for entertainment. The use of the word film makes an attempt to elevate them to the status of art, and while a lot of the films I have seen so far fall into the category of film as art (Brick included), it’s still an awesome experience to watch a film that takes you on a wild emotional ride for two hours and that when it ends you wish you could linger in the story world for just a little bit longer. Brick, a 2005 hardboiled detective story set in a high school, may not seem like the most likely candidate to be a “fun” film. However, after finishing the film I couldn’t get away from the fact that I had so much fun watching it. Yes, its story revolves around a murder, drug deals, and all sorts of deception, but Brick is so much more than its plot. It has a unique style that is extremely well executed, and features great performances from relative unknowns, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt before he became a star. However, more than that Brick has a way of pulling you into the world it has created.
This is important, because on paper, Brick‘s concept is slightly odd. It is a neo noir murder mystery filled with 1940s detective speak, but it also takes place at a high school. I know America’s school system is floundering a bit, but most suburbs don’t have murders, serious heroin dealers or the type of freedom that these kids get away with. Parents are virtually nonexistent, fights are commonplace, and as far as I could tell class attendance was optional, but I never thought twice about these issues because Brick sucks you into the story before you have time to doubt its validity. Everything that happens is serious and the high school setting isn’t meant to be tongue and cheek. This isn’t a commentary on what faces the modern high school student. In fact the school portion of the film doesn’t really matter at all, its all about emotion. After all, the noir crime novels and films are all about heightened emotions and the ability to keep your cool. The detectives in novels like The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man had to navigate seedy underworlds all while acting like a chameleon. They had to fit in everywhere and do their best to mask their emotions. The books even had a signature dialogue style that separated that haves from the have-nots, and was unintelligible from the outside. If you think about it those qualities sound a lot like what happens in high school. People form cliques, slang varies widely, and the never ending quest to be cool requires you to fit in with the crowd, while keeping your own hormonal mood swings in check. The two are a perfect fit, and its amazing to see the tropes and characters that Brick fits into the high school theme.
On top of the excellent noir elements, Brick is well acted, well paced, and well shot. Despite its low budget it was shot on 35mm film, not digital, and its makes a big difference giving the film that subtle filter that actual film cameras provide. Rian Johnson, the director, also shot the film with lots of non-facial close-ups and with dark, but vibrant colors helping to accentuate the ambiguity of motive in all the characters. It’s really hard to believe the film was shot for only $450,000 in twenty days because the quality is excellent.
I know I have already said it a bunch of times, but I loved Brick. It is a must see for any film noir fanatic, but is worth watching for everyone who enjoys a great story. It may not be a happy movie per say, but it is a very enjoyable movie experience. I feel like it’s a rarity nowadays that a movie successfully creates a vivid diegetic space that has as much nuance and emotion as Brick does. This may be cliche, but from the first frame to the closing credits I was completely entertained, and even though Brick has far more to offer than just entertainment, it was nice to watch a movie for the reason they were originally intended for.
Up Next: Disney heads down to the Bayou, and I tag along with The Princess and the Frog.