Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Brick

When a movie does something or is something that hasn’t been done before or didn’t exist before, I can appreciate it without actually liking it. Fortunately, Brick succeeds on both counts, though one much more than the other. One of the practices of college writing classes everywhere is taking the model of a story that already exists and transporting the setting. If the script for Brick was a college project, it would probably earn a B+.

The model is a hard-boiled detective story, and the setting it’s transported to is a high school. The hero remains largely the same, except he doesn’t have the convenient occupation of detective. The motivation is almost the same; originally it’s money turning to revenge, and here it’s friendship turning to revenge. Overall, the transportation works wonderfully well. There are a few things that didn’t translate very well, like the party Brendan goes to in the first half-hour of the film, and the fact that only the “adult” in the story seems to have any parents. However, I’ve seen some setting changes that worked horribly, so this seems pretty good by comparison.

The movie opens up on what so many hard-boiled stories open up on: a dead body. Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the main character, is staring at it contemplatively. We then back-track one day, to an arm with a blue bracelet (the same blue bracelet the body had on) slipping a note into Brendan’s locker at school. No explaining, no exposition. The filmmaker chooses a voyeuristic approach with the camera angles, and we feel a bit like we are intruding. Brendan gets a call from Emily (Emilie de Ravin), an old flame, and she’s in trouble. He spends the rest of the day trying to track her down. Brendan is the archetypical detective; brooding, sardonic, a loner, and tough as nails. He’s definitely not above violence when it’s called for, but he’s also much too smart to get into a scuffle when a well-placed word will do just as well. He’s also the second smartest kid in school. He’s helped out from time to time by the first smartest, a bespectacled kid nicknamed The Brain (Matt O’Leary). Brendan visits and has run-ins with various people on his quest for information, like school drama queen and former girlfriend Kara (Meagan Good), upper-class hostess Laura (Nora Zehetner), and stoner Dode (Noah Segan), who happens to be Emily’s current flame. Also in the mix are drug lord The Pin (Lukas Haas) and his toady, the belligerent Tug (Noah Fleiss).

Brendan still cares for Emily, and that leads him to get way too involved in affairs that start out as none of his business. The plot kind of lost me at one point, as it was a little too twisty for me to completely follow it. The dialogue is brilliant throughout, and the screenplay controls the plot with a mature pacing. The best part is, though, that the director obviously loves the hard-boiled detective story, and it definitely shows with this movie. His drawing on classical sources seems like interpretation rather than ripping off, and we as the audience are treated to a movie that’s at once haunting, mystical, and visceral. It also proves that a movie doesn’t have to have even a single shot of special effects or CGI to be beautiful. Brick reveals competence in the craft of movie-making, as well as the ability to piece together an intriguing (if very confusing) story.

Iconic Lines:
“Throw one at me if you want, hash-head. I’ve got all five senses and I slept last night, so that puts me six up on the lot of you.”
“There’s a thesaurus in the library. ‘Yeah’ is under Y. Go ahead, I’ll wait.”
“Come to see the show?”

22 Rating: 8

Particle Man

4 comments:

Dr. Worm said...

I remember being intrigued by this movie when I first heard the premise, and now--thanks the the review and especially the iconic lines section--I'm even more intrigued. I'll have to put it on my shortlist.

Wicked Little Critta said...

Please elaborate on the phrase "hard-boiled." You used it three times, and I'm not sure I know exactly what it means...

Particle Man said...

"hard-boiled" is a term literary people apply to a certain kind of story. it usually involves a detective who's just minding his own business when a damsel in distress comes to him for help. he uses his detection skills to find out as much as he can about her problem, and then there is some sort of twist. "hard-boiled" stories always feature an unsentimental (but not necessarily realistic) approach to crime, sex, and the criminal underbelly. the hero is usually very jaded and pessimistic, and it's hard for life to surprise him anymore. a key feature of the hard-boiled story is the "femme fatale," a woman who draws the hero into the story, but is not who she seems to be. The Maltese Falcon is one of the quintessential hard-boiled detective stories, popularized by the Bogart movie.

Your Racist Friend said...

The novels of James Ellroy, James M. Cain, and Dashiell Hammett are all great examples of the genre.