Brick

2006-05-18

in Films and movies

Projector at the Phoenix Cinema, OxfordTonight, for the first time ever, I saw a film in a theatre in the United Kingdom: Brick at the Phoenix Cinema in Jericho. If pressed, I would call the film a kind of satire of your classic gangland genre. The characterization, plot, and dialogue are all similar to those films, though this one is set among a group of high school students. In one scene that depicts the protagonist and a Vice-Principal in a kind of police officer/informant dynamic, the comic elements of the satire are most apparent. At other times, the brutality of the film made the possibility that it was made with some kind of comic intent seem very distant.

Billed as a successor to Donnie Darko, I thought that Brick was more clever, all in all. At least it didn’t involve the agony of some of that film’s attempts at humour. To me, Donnie Darko had too much of what might be termed ‘LiveJournal angst’ – the sort that seems extremely authentic to the person experiencing it, and perhaps people in very similar circumstances, but which fails to travel beyond there and seems shallow for it. By contrast, Brick portrays teenagers as almost hyper-confident and self assured. They speak and act with a directedness quite at odds with the experience of adolescence.

In the end, the film is an experiment that doesn’t always work. Some of the visuals are intriguing, just as some of the dialogue is a clever take on film noir. At the same time, some of the characters lack any clear motivation and the reasons for layering that kind of plot onto these actors and this setting is never entirely plain. This sort of film is certain to find resonance with some people, and in this case is clever enough, on the mean, to deserve it.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Antonia May 18, 2006 at 12:15 pm

As mentioned previously, I thought that the film was essentially modernised Raymond Chandler – the hard-boiled genre updated to the American High School. Both tongue-in-cheek and frequently a bit too self-indulgent but altogether well executed and enjoyable.
Possibly it sufferes slightly from being a bit too faithful to Chandler.

I can’t believe you’ve neither seen nor read ‘The Big Sleep’
See here maybe.

btw other places you may have seen the lead actor’s face – most likely 3rd Rock from the Sun, I’m afraid. I definitely preferred him in 10 Things I Hate About You and, as mentioned before, I feel his performace owes a lot to Heath Ledger’s style (his entire character in ‘Brick’ is kind of the guy everyone believes Patrick Verona is at the start of 10 Things).

anonymous May 18, 2006 at 12:35 pm

“‘LiveJournal angst’ – the sort that seems extremely authentic to the person experiencing it, and perhaps people in very similar circumstances, but which fails to travel beyond there and seems shallow for it.”

I’m no great fan of LiveJournal but why should someone’s else’s ‘angst’ be trivial simply because you don’t connect with it? From a regular blogger that strikes me as a little dismissive…

Milan May 18, 2006 at 1:07 pm

Antonia,

As I said, I know nothing of this Raymond Chandler, though I may need to investigate. You’re right abotu there I remember Joseph Gordon-Levitt from. It’s probably the hugely different context of the film that made it so hard to connect him to 3rd Rock from the Sun.

Anonymous,

I’m not saying “LiveJournal angst” is trivial. Obviously, it’s important to the person in question. I am saying that it doesn’t evoke much sympathy from outside observers.

Milan May 18, 2006 at 1:51 pm

Antonia,

Regarding ‘The Big Sleep,’ the only Bogart film I’ve ever seen is Casablanca.

anonymous May 18, 2006 at 4:54 pm

R.K.,

Sure, there’s a critical aspect in being a ‘regular’ member of a particular community but I wouldn’t argue it was a defining characteristic of one’s commitment to that pursuit.

Milan May 18, 2006 at 5:04 pm

@Everyone

I wasn’t trying to make such an extensive statement with the expression ‘LiveJournal angst.’ If it bothers you, just substitute the word ‘teenage’ for ‘LiveJournal,’ though I think the latter term better captures the pseudo-literary character of the phenomenon. It’s not just about being angsty, it’s about trying to be angsty with style.

R.K. May 18, 2006 at 3:17 pm

@Anonymous

“why should someone’s else’s ‘angst’ be trivial simply because you don’t connect with it? From a regular blogger that strikes me as a little dismissive”

Isn’t part of being a ‘regular’ anything becoming a critic of other people who do that thing? Communities don’t advance and develop through sycophantic endorsement alone.

Anonymous May 19, 2006 at 9:31 pm

The film-making debut of the season is “Brick”, a daring and assured film written and directed by Rian Johnson. It is a hardboiled detective story set in an affluent Californian high school where everyone speaks a wonderful mixture of teen slang and 70-year-old pulp lingo. The recurring high-school phrase “Who are you eating with?” conveys life-and-death messages. And nobody has ever devised so many new ways of saying, “Get off the case, shamus.”

The shamus is Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whose search for his ex-girl-friend’s killer leads him into a romance with a femme fatale (Nora Zehetner) and an ambiguous friendship with The Pin (Lukas Haas), a local drug-lord who reads Tolkien and lives with his mother. Mr Johnson brilliantly plays out the weird mixture of school and crime. The school’s vice-principal (Richard Roundtree) menaces the hero like a cop grilling a smart-alecky gumshoe, and the distant sounds of cheer-leaders are heard as Brendan is pursued through the schoolyard by a knife-wielding goon.

“Brick” is such an original affair that one suspects the film-maker of concocting this offbeat blend of genre and milieu to give spectators two familiar reference points as they explore a brand-new cinematic universe. The first appearance of this uncompromisingly individual vision—unimaginable as a studio production—may even turn out to be what audiences remember most about this summer.

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