BRICK, a classic film noir for the modern age

*There may be spoilers*

Although  Brick was released in 2005, and not during the golden age of Film Noir, post-WWII, it should be considered a classic of the genre.  You either accept its premise or you don’t:  High school kids speaking like tough guys and fast-talking dames while the teenage hero, Brendan, investigates the circumstances surrounding the death of his ex-girlfriend Emily.  This is no “these-kids-have-their-own-language”  situation; everyone in this film’s enclosed universe talks like that.  Nor are the teenagers attempting to distance themselves or disrespect the adults, of whom very few are seen.  Backstory of why they talk like this is irrelevant.  Get over it and accept the story’s set-up for what it is.  Or don’t.

Brick, though not in black and white, has many of the hallmarks of the classic film noir:  The femme fatale (two of ’em, in fact), a sparsely-populated urban landscape,  the hero’s descent into the seedy world of darkness — literally, here — and the cool underscoring of a jazz soundtrack.

Brendan, too, is in the same mode as the classic noir (detective) hero:  tough, resourceful, tenacious, occasionally a smartass (like his dialogue with Brad in the parking lot, just before they fight), and given to flashes of insight from his own subconscious mind, which provides him answers to key parts of the puzzle.  And, he almost always knows the right thing to do or say in any given situation to continue to push his investigation forward.

But (again like the noir hero) he’s also tarnished by something he did in his past — which drove Emily away and eventually led to the situation that he’s in now.

All of the plot may not be understood in one viewing (and put your closed-captions on!) as it’s one of the most convoluted film noirs since the original Big Sleep in 1946.

The writer-director, Rian Johnson, was influenced by the works of Dashiell Hammett.  In fact, Brendan’s line to Laura, “Now you are dangerous,” was taken from The Maltese Falcon — as was Brendan telling Laura to signal him with “long short long short” if she saw Dode coming.  Sam Spade told Brigid O’Shaughnessy to give the same signal to him as a warning.  Also, at the end of The Maltese Falcon, Spade reveals to Brigid that he knows of  her involvement in the events that just occured.  At the end of Brick, Brendan reveals to Laura that he knows of her involvement in the events that just occured.  The only difference is, Spade says he’ll wait for Brigid till she gets out of prison.  Brendan, on the other hand, has no such feelings for Laura and wants nothing more to do with her.  Laura’s betrayal of Emily was too great for Brendan to overcome.

This was Rian Johnson’s first feature-length film.  If you’ve seen his second one, The Brothers Bloom (2008), you’ll know he has a penchant for complicated plots and dressing up young characters in the wardrobe of another time period.  The Brothers Bloom also has cameos by Brick actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brendan), Nora Zehetner (Laura) and Lukas Haas (The Pin), and a small role by Noah Segan (Dode) as The Duke.  And both have music composed by the director’s cousin, Nathan Johnson.

But whereas The Brothers Bloom flirts with cutesy-wutesy precociousness (the narrator; kid con-artists dressed in suits and hats) — though luckily never slides too far over the line into it — Brick steers clear of such whimsy and gives us a straight-up hard-boiled mystery which does credit to its noir forefathers.


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