2006Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emilie de Ravin, Noah Fleiss
ne distilled aim of filmmaking is to tell an interesting story in an original way. Usually, when a writer/director achieves this objective, the resulting movie demands high praise. Rian Johnson’s feature debut Brick is a puzzling exception.
Set in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Johnson’s tale features a loner named Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt of 3rd Rock from the Sun). Brendan seems like the typical pissed-off smart kid; too cerebral for the cool people, too angry for the nerds. He would have been perfectly satisfied eating lunch alone behind his school left undisturbed. Fate does not allow Brendan to brood, however, because he receives an urgent note that launches him into an unfamiliar world. Apparently, our protagonist was not always a solitary creature; said note was written by an ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin). Determined to do whatever he can to help his former flame, Brendan repeatedly risks life and limb to discover who and what is behind her troubles. Blindly navigating his way through femme fatales, hired muscle, and even a drug kingpin, Brendan fights to find the truth. And yes, the entire cast is made up of high school-aged characters.
Therein lies the premise: classic film noir meets present-day high schoolers. Johnson’s first misstep is to present the dialogue as it would have been in classic Bogart-era films. An element of novelty inadvertently comes with hearing a 17 year-old call cops “bulls” and refer to multiple adversaries as “the lot of you,” but nothing is quite novel after two hours of screen time. The speech patterns become distracting and tiresome—not to mention the concept was already used ten years ago in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. What initially makes the film unusual becomes its weakest link.
Pacing problems also plague Brick. Much of the early part of the film is painstakingly slow, without enough character development or stage-setting to merit the delay. Audience members are more entertained once the action starts, but there are too many unnecessary scenes throughout. The character of Kara, though, played brilliantly by the beautiful Meagan Good, could have been cut from the film altogether. Kara adds to Brick’s noir-ish credentials, but ultimately proves superfluous to the story’s foundation, and, thus, symptomatic of the film’s central mistake.
Through his loyalty to concept over story, Johnson sells his own work short. Brendan’s quest for the truth contains the seed of what makes great noir great. Trust is the rarest commodity, danger lurks everywhere, and people are not who they say they are. The affected speech and archetypal characters are unimportant to the best genre offerings, but occupy the primary space in Johnson’s work, with frustrating results. Brick is unique, generally well-acted, based around a strong whodunit core, and contains some truly striking images, yet its whole is outstripped by the sum of its parts. With a few different choices, Johnson could have produced something really great. As it is, Brick stands, at once, as a promising and disappointing debut.
Brick is playing in limited theatrical release.
By: Kevin Worrall
Published on: 2006-06-07