Brick (2005)

Synopsis: A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: “Brick” is one of those movies in the late 2000s that caught my eye, but I have no discernible reason to say *why* I wanted to watch it outside of it being a supposed crime thriller. Truthfully, I can’t even remember watching the trailer. Years later, knowing that Rian Johnson wrote and directed it was all I needed to know to land it on my list.

Brent’s Review:

“Brick” is written and directed by Rian Johnson, of “Looper” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” fame. This film has a pretty standard setup: teen loner, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), looks into the mysterious appearance of his ex-girlfriend. Where the film is unique, however, is that it exhumes the corpse of film noir, a genre firmly in the rearview mirror of the film industry today, and throws every trope in the genre at the viewer with confidence. In the few moments that the film slows down, I found myself reflecting on an interview with Quentin Tarantino I saw a few years ago in which he describes his experience writing “Pulp Fiction” as having the confidence to tell a really simple story.

The mission of “Brick” is massive: use film noir in a high school setting and make it convincing. Save for a few solid laughs, the film is very self-serious – it could even be a comedy if not for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s strong performance.

Yet, the strength of “Brick” is also its weakness: the choice of setting sometimes requires more suspension of disbelief than I wanted to give. The movie insists on realism – indeed, the violence is visceral. On the other hand, the film is about teenagers in high school – and it doesn’t shy away from its setting, including inquiries about “who’s eating lunch [with whom]” and the inadvertently hilarious line, “I don’t want you to come kicking in my homeroom door because of something I didn’t do.”

Johnson does an excellent job of crafting a film that would never have been made if it didn’t have this “fresh” angle – indeed, it took him six years to fund this one on a budget of less than half a million dollars – but ultimately, he is backed into a corner. His solution is to try to meet the challenge head-on and occasionally come up for air, winking at the audience along the way. In one brief scene, Brendan interacts with The Pin’s mother, which feels like it was transplanted from a teen comedy. Brendan slips back into his tough-guy facade after she excuses herself.

If you find yourself distracted by the setting, the film’s breakneck pace doesn’t let you be distracted for long. Johnson’s command of this material is outstanding. As excited as I am to see his work on “The Last Jedi,” I am even more excited to see the solo projects he will helm in the future. Overall, I was impressed by his work on such a small budget. Make no mistake: the film isn’t perfect. There are some jerky camera movements that betray his trademark crispness and some out-of-focus shots that a more experienced Johnson probably would’ve cleaned up. But the film is consistently beautiful to look at and, overall, the camera movements are very fun to watch (his whip-pans and close-ups are especially noteworthy).

I really wanted to love “Brick”, but I’ll settle for really liking it a lot. It’s definitely worth a viewing – maybe even a few.

Leah’s Review:

My main reason for wanting to watch “Brick” was because of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Levitt is a fantastic actor who has been in a variety of genres including drama, comedy, and action. I’ve never seen him give a bad performance and, in fact, he usually blows me away with his abilities to adapt to very different characters. I also have a tendency of enjoying movies that take place in high school settings as well as murder-mystery stories, so “Brick” was a film that I was looking forward to seeing.

“Brick” is a very interesting blend of film. What you need to know up front (and what I didn’t catch from until about halfway through) is that it is a film noir movie. The interesting part is that its setting is a modern-day high school. “Brick” asks its audience to suspend their belief that this combination should be a natural one and also assumes we will catch on to any subtle attributes common of the film noir genre. On top of that, the fast-paced and often frenzied-feeling story makes it nearly impossible to keep up with what is happening in this unfamiliar environment. Nevertheless, once you’ve gotten your bearings, the film is both engaging and engrossing.

After watching “Casino” last week (another crime movie made with a larger budget and more established movie-makers/actors), I was really impressed with how “Brick” was able to make itself feel like a really authentic film noir movie. Sure, modern-day high schoolers aren’t nearly this polished or cool. Underground teenage heroin rings, though some surely exist, aren’t nearly this well-managed. But somehow, it all works in a very believable way. On a side note, I really liked the fact that the director chose to have the characters use pay phones as their form of communication instead of cell phones to add complication to the plot and a more film noir feel.

“Brick” is a dark movie. It deals with some heavy subject matter and thrusts teenagers into a very adult world. There were times I was reminded of watching “Chinatown” or “L.A. Confidential”- which (like “Brick”) both feature investigation of corrupted murders. “Brick” features some of that same brutal violence. Brent disagreed with me about the movie being violent- but maybe it stood out more to me because the ones dealing with the danger and corruption were not cold-hearted gangsters or experienced detectives- but rather high school kids. And, again- I think that’s what makes this film so brilliant. The effortlessness in which the world of film noir and high school drama are so perfectly melded together is both innovative and entertaining to watch on screen.

Up Next: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. The mother of all spaghetti westerns. 

Peace out, kids.


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