On our rainiest day on vacation we spent a considerable amount of time watching the series Kitchen Confidential (pretty funny, too bad it was cancelled after airing only 4 episodes) on Hulu. Unfortunatley for us every episode had the same commercial for upcoming indie film 500 Days of Summer starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zoey Deschanel. A commercial that, after roughly 4 episodes, started to become a bit tiresome. While I still would love to see 500 Days of Summer it did get me thinking about the film “Brick” which also starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt, who most viewers likely recognize from his series long stint on 3rd Rock from the Sun, has been making a career starring in smaller, though well-produced, movies for the last couple of years. Though I haven’t really been following his career too closely the 2005 film Brick is one of my favorite movies of all time and one of those films that I feel slipped through the cracks over recent years.
Set in a modern day California High School, Brick is an old school detective story in every way. When Brenden is suddenly contact by his ex-girlfriend just before she disappears he suddenly thrust into an all-consuming quest to find out what happened to her. Along the way he butts heads with various factions around the school. From the vice pricipal, to football jocks, to a primadonna theatre princess, to junkies, to the local drug runner there isn’t anyone or anything Brenden fears in his quest to uncover the truth behind Emily’s disappearance.
Brilliantly written by director Riann Johnson “Brick”‘s characters don’t sound like High School kids. Instead they sound like they’re ripped straight from the pages of a crime novel. Check out this bit of dialogue from Brenden’s sidekick/informant The Brain:
See the Pin pipes it from the lowest scraper for Brad Bramish to sell, maybe. Ask any dope rat where their junk sprang and they’ll say they scraped it from that, who scored it from this, who bought it off so, and after four or five connections the list always ends with The Pin. But I bet you, if you got every rat in town together and said “Show your hands” if any of them’ve actually seen The Pin, you’d get a crowd of full pockets.
Or the following brief exhange between Brenden and the theatre princess Kara:
Brenden: You still picking your teeth with freshman?
Kara: You were a freshman once.
Brenden: Way once, sister.
What the text doesn’t do is convey the delivery of those line which from character to character and actor to actor is spot on. It would have been easy to turn Brick’s dialogue and noir homages into a parody but each actor appraochs their parts with maturity and an almost underacted approach that manages to keep the movie level and allow it to work with a straight-face. Brenden is a detective that seems to be directly influenced by Raymond Chandler and Brick as a whole is very much informed, whether intentionally or not, by the much of Chandler’s non-fiction. Take for example Chandlers sentiments regarding a love interest (from “Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel”): “The only effective love interest is that which creates a personal hazard for the detective – but which, at the same time, you instinctively feel to be a mere episode.” to the following exchange between Brenden and the socialite Laura:
Brenden: Why are you telling me all this? What’s your play?
Laura: You think nobody sees you. Eating lunch behind the portables. Loving some girl like she’s all there is, anywhere, to you. I’ve always seen you. Or maybe I liked Emily. Maybe I see what you’re trying to do for her, trying to help her, and I don’t know anybody who would do that for me.
Brenden: Now you are dangerous.
The quick shift from information source to personal emotional threat falls directly into Chandler’s line; a fact that is almost echoed exactly by Brenden’s final response. Like Chandler’s classic detective Phillip Marlowe, Brenden is surprisingly chaste and though he is obviously drawn to Laura (and has a past with the missing Emily as well as Kara) that romantic tension never materializes into action.
Brick’s Chandlerian overtones and crafted dialogue are further enhanced by the spartan set design the lends a certain air of bleakness to the film. The Pin’s basement office, a carpeted, wood-paneled room only contains the Pin’s desk. When crashing a “high society” teen party the mansion home has a surprisingly empty appearance that echoes the vapid and self-centered teens who populate the party. The utilitarian set design and framing allows the actors to take center stage not only focusing the viewers attentions on what they are say but on their body language and how the interact with the frequently empty space around them.
If your a fan of mysteries, enjoy your noir, or are just a fan of good films then you can’t really go wrong with Brick. Brick is one of those films that I don’t really want to end. The film manages to craft such a well-realized world that it is difficult to pull away from. It is a movie a keep coming back to and I am disappointed that we haven’t seen much else from Rian Johnson since. Regardless it is a damned fine piece of filmwork that is definitley worth checking out.