I feel I've been watching rather a lot of crime films for this project, whether about criminals or the law. Indeed, the first few films I watched for the experiment at the end of November were all crime-related: the Shaft trilogy and two 30s Fritz Langs. 'Brick' is a rather exciting entry in the genre. It transfers some of the usual chatacters, situations and philosophy of hard-boiled noir detective tales to the setting of an American high-school, resulting in a fresh look at some old ideas.
When I think of modern U.S. high-schools (and by modern I mean post-9/11) my first thoughts are of 'Glee' (2009 - ) and 'Mean Girls' (2004), so I found it refreshing and a little startling to see the familiar costume and scenery of modern American youth in so sober a story. The detective character, Brendan, is merely a student, a pupil in his prime, but behaves with the manner of a hard-nosed gumshoe.
Emily rejects Brendan's offer of help
I think it's the dialogue that does it. Certainly the cast aren't giving especially film noir performances or this could have been embarrassing, as ironic and schlocky as 'Bugsy Malone' (1976), a very different take on old-fashioned crime told with a young cast. On the contrary, everyone here is taking it seriously, and I can believe in them all. Barring Richard Roundtree in a small role as the Assistant Vice-Principal - the closest the film shows to the rule of law - the cast is made up wholly of young actors I've never seen in anything before, and will be glad to look out in the future.
So anyway, one of Brendan's friends, Emily, in in trouble. In fact, she's dead, as we learn from the first few shots (which carry with them the visual flair of Twin Peaks, if not its melodrama), but the first half of the film shows us how this point is reached. She's in trouble, and Brendan has the resources to investigate: he's unselfconscious, he knows how to take a beating, he's grown grim, but has a sharp mind. Crucially, he doesn't worry too much about getting to the end of the film in the same state he started.
I really like how the space between the faces looks like a set of stairs here
In a story full of doubt and shaky alliances, he has one friend he can trust, a confidante called Brain, who knows what's happening where, and does the research Brendan needs. Given the similarity of the two characters' names, it pleased me to think Brain was merely a psychomachia, an externalisation of Brendan's thoughts to let us know how he works through his problems. The idea is only really undermined once, as Brain places an important call while Brendan is indisposed elsewhere, but a piece of (rather wonderful yet unostentatious) camera trickery seems to reintroduce the idea towards the end, as an out-of-focus Brain emerges from behing Brendan's head, says his piece, and returns there, either up the playing-field or in through the ear.
I really like the direction in this film, which makes a bold and engaging screenplay visually memorable. There's an extent to which, given the very modern and familiar setting, anybody, any amateur, could go out and shoot this script without spending much money and come out with something appropriate and dramatic. Rian Johnson both wrote and directed the film, and has as much knack for drama in a beautifully-framed shot as on the page. When time permits, I'm very curious to see his other films, 'The Brothers Bloom' (2008) and 'Looper' (2012), the latter of which shares this film's main star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
P.S. Having described some people only slightly my junior as 'a cast of young actors' in the third paragraph, I suddenly feel indescribably ancient.
P.P.S. Tune in next time for a Danish silent film from the earliest year in this project's remit, 1913.
If it appeals in the slightest, check the film out. I clearly enjoyed it, and I believe I haven't said enough to spoil it for y'all.