Friday, 21 December 2012

filmbore pick of the week - Brick

Director: Rian Johnson
Screenplay: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Nora Zehetner
Year: 2005
Language: English
UK rental release: September 2006

Rotten Tomatoes

As we draw nearer to the end of 2012, reflecting back it's been a decent year for films at both ends of the financial spectrum - terrific indies and jaw-dropping blockbusters. Two of the cinematic giants this year, The Dark Knight Rises and Looper, can pin some of their success to some stellar turns by the enigmatic Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It's his scene stealing performances in some movies, like Inception, and his competency at carrying a lead role in others, as he did in 500 Days Of Summer, that has land-locked him as a go-to name for brilliant acting. Fondly known as the young boy in Third Rock From The Sun, it's his take on a "Philip Marlowe" style role in Brick that started him on his journey up the echelons of Hollywood success. Frye is confused. A perplexing phone call from his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin of Lost - TV series fame) has him stumped. Code words in her message - the pin, the brick - have no relevance in his mind, but the sudden discovery of Emily's body following a mysterious murder pushes him to investigate further. What was Emily talking about? And why would anyone wish to take her life? The riddle she's placed at his feet could hold the answers.

In order to make sense of it all, Brendan turns self-motivated private eye, questioning known associates and befriending certain key members of the hierarchical structure of his high school's social community. One such person is Laura (Nora Zehetner, The Brothers Bloom, Heroes - TV series), who's contacts and status could prove useful to Brendan - hopefully to unravel the enigma left by Emily and to involve him with higher representatives of the school elite. he digs deeper into the puzzle, Brendan reveals more than he bargained for, angering some and intriguing others, none more so than the nefarious boss of an unexpected crime syndicate, The Pin himself (Lukas Haas, Witness, Mars Attacks), an altogether peculiar leader of his men, sweltering in self-imposed rays of delusions of grandeur.

Brendan will have to tread carefully to uncover the truths he so desperately seeks to keep his sanity and life, while the final piece of the puzzle may be simpler than he thinks.

When I first watched Brick I spent the first ten minutes wondering if I was missing something, and if I should even continue watching it. This is rare for me, as I'm reluctant to press the Stop button so early, but I'm glad I held my patience. It's wasn't so much the initial mystery, which can throw you (which is it's point after all) but that it began a little bit too pretentiously for my liking. Please don't let that put you off though, as very quickly the film really gets underway and under your skin.

This is mainly down to a smart, relevant and, dare I say, hip script tapping neatly into teenage pathos and student social etiquette. The successful execution of this is due to Rian Johnson's choice to lace a film noir detective story into a school drama. This analogy of a private eye mystery layered into the setting of hierarchies in high school works surprisingly well, with Frye as an outsider, perfectly placed as our detective at a distance, or the headmaster who opposes Frye but agrees with his general motive, channelling the police officer reluctant to help his PI friend. It's a brave but thankfully successful design, allowing for some intriguing face-offs and sharp exchanges.

Smartly balanced throughout is an odd choice to include some comedy. Luckily, the timing of these bouts of humour is so well crafted I think the film would probably fail without it. Rapid quips and retorts bring some laughter, and some physical comedy is a welcome gift, lightening the picture just sufficiently enough to take it on step out of the dark - it makes the film a little more approachable while not alienating those who strive to find films with a left field approach. Once you fall into the story, you're hooked all the way, especially when you tune into this tongue-in-cheek vibe delivered superfluously by the whole cast.

A script like this would normally need a lot of big names, but I'm pleased that the actors chosen got a shot at it. Some lesser known names get the chance to flex their acting skills and Gordon-Levitt is the perfect choice for Brendan Frye. Here, he's been able to display his adept skill at presenting tight but unique dialogue. Also, by choosing such actors, it has allowed Johnson to create a piece with a lot more ease when considering his incredibly low budget (reported at just under $500,000), sourced from friends and family. This decision has allowed new talent to shine and Gordon-Levitt to really make his mark, paving his way towards an array of performances we know and love him for today.

I'm thinking of changing my name to debut-bore, as I cannot help myself in pushing director's first forays in cinema. Nevertheless, it's clear that this is yet another brilliant first stab behind the lens from another interesting director. Since Brick, Rian Johnson has gone on to make the unique grifter romp The Brothers Bloom and the beguiling Looper, and is someone who takes risks when crafting cinematic treats. I hope that, as his career evolves, he'll keep stretching the boundaries of possibility, as I'd expect to see some incredible pieces from him in years to come, as long as the studios allow him to make movies his own way.

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  1. Nice review. I too was on the verge of switching off at first, but I kept with it as my interest perked up. I found some of the dialogue overly trippy, but the main character was brilliant. And once you get clued into what the film is, it really gels and you enjoy it more and more. I loved the "action" scenes! Because they were at once realistic, intelligent and quirky.

  2. Sorry for the delayed response Craig. And thanks for compliment. It's a weird blend that just sits, doesn't it? Proof that sometimes you have to have faith in a film and trust where it's going...then you'll be rewarded! Thanks buddy :)