This movie had the widest disparity from preview to actual feature that I have seen in a long while. The preview makes Brick look like a dramatic film noir, with mind-bending twists and turns, mysterious voices, and exciting revelations. The film reveals itself to be an admittedly unique detective story that wants desperately to be a complex film noir, and it’s set in a surreal high school universe of drugs, loose women, er, girls, murder, and complex interrelationships. And none of it ends up on their permanent records!
It could have been the horrid sound quality in the theatre at which we saw Brick, but I found a lot of information missing or assumed, even with a handy “Brick Talk” glossary in hand. Sample dialogue: “It’s duck soup for you yegs,” which means it’s easy pickings for you guys. Sure, the film noir classics of the forties are soaked in wise guy dialogue, but it wasn’t invented especially for the movie, it was just antiquated slang that we modern audiences don’t always know – but usually we can contextualize it. This movie is set today, in a terrifying San Clemente high school with a drug kingpin, sexual slavery, immunity deals with the vice principal, and apparently routine assassination attempts. The only class that meets with any regularity is the theatre class.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt escapes his Third Rock From the Sun reputation as brooding and determined Brendan, going to great lengths to help out his ex-girlfriend (Lost’s Emilie De Ravin) who seems to be in a pickle of some kind. Whether he automatically assumed it was a gang rivalry over hard narcotics or a jealous lover’s murderous revenge, it’s hard to say. It’s mostly hard to understand, with lots of unanswered questions (why is Laura important? What does Kara have to do with anything, except to provide provocative preview footage? Why do we care about Brad Bramish if he’s not involved? ) and plenty of untied loose ends.
It’s hard boiled, and the whole notion of these kids being so jaded, so deep into their serious adult-like lives is amusing particularly when the realities of their situation come into play (Lukas Haas’ mother, for example). “I don’t want you kickin’ in my home room door when things get too hot” is typical fare. The rest of the time, it feels vaguely like a come-on. It’s not really clear what Brendan’s actual motivation here is – even after he knows what happened to De Ravin, he gets more deeply involved in something apparently unrelated (certainly unrelated to her fate). Thankfully, there is a pretty big epilogue tell-all, which shouldn’t have been necessary if the story had led us along a path that obeyed its own narrative rules. Annoyingly, and this is largely due to the theatre’s crappy sound system and the fact that the climactic confrontation of the film was shot in an open field next to a loud and busy freeway, I still don’t know who the perpetrator is, despite the long monologue that should have told me. Very frustrating.
The relationships are unclear, the motives less so, but the idea has potential. Hopefully writer/director Rian Johnson will keep up the high concept and the great preview cutting and have some script polishing next time around. Even when I was struggling with the story, the film still managed to maintain its tension and interest, which is a prodigious feat, so I hope Johnson tries again in the future.
MPAA Rating R-sexuality, language, drug use
Release date 3/31/06
Time in minutes 110
Director Rian Johnson
Studio Focus Feartures