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Brick (2006)

August 28th, 2006 · No Comments

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Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon Levitt, formerly of 3rd Rock From The Sun) – a teen who takes lunch by himself behind the school, generally despises everyone and has little he seems to care about – gets a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Emily Kostich (Emilie de Raven) who is in over her head with something and seems to want his help. She hangs up in fright before he can figure out what.

With the help of his trusty book The Brain (Matt O’Leary), Brendan skips class to investigate, using scraps of paper, cryptic messages and suspicion of the town’s elite to unravel the mystery. Amiable rich girl Laura Dannon (Nora Zehetner), a young enforcer named Tugger – who would make Sonny Corleone look level headed- and a 26-year-old drug smuggler who lives in his mother’s basement named The Pin (Lukas Haas) may somehow be involved.

Written and directed in an impressive filmmaking debut by former USC student Rian Johnson, Brick is an ode to the hard boiled pulp fiction of Dashiell Hammett, who Johnson became obsessed with when he found out his favorite movie from film school – Miller’s Crossing – was influenced by Hammett.

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Though set in what’s supposed to be a modern day high school in San Clemente, California – where Johnson grew up – the film quickly departs from anything resembling reality. It’s highly stylized, and notable for featuring some of the most incomprehensible language put on film in recent memory. A sampler:

“It’s their turf, I couldn’t hear them without being seen, and that would only biff their play. Best to know it’s there, let it ride and see what comes of it.” Oh wait, it gets better.

“The ape blows, or I clam.” What the hell, boy?

“I’m looking to find this big game The Pin’s played, not to gum it, but just so when its tail jams in my back I’ll know who to bill for the embalming.”

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These aren’t throwaway lines given to one character. This is the way most every character talks for most of the movie.

Shot on a budget of $500,000 scraped together from friends and family, Brick is at least visually enthralling in a way the script never manages to be beyond the brilliant bullshit coming out of the characters’ mouths. Shots are composed, lit and flow in a fashion that would probably make Ridley Scott or David Lynch proud.

Because he was a first time director, and perhaps because no financier had a clue what demographic they could to sell this to, Johnson spent eight years trying to get the film made. His personal story of dogged perseverance is a great one, while the storytelling in his script is non-existent. The movie is not saying anything, other than, that Hammett really could write.

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The cast – particularly Levitt as the hero too smart for his own good, and Zehetner as a teenage Lauren Bacall – look terrific, but aren’t permitted to share anything between them that isn’t strained. Spending the better part of a decade designing the dialogue and storyboarding the shots, Johnson completely drained the life right out of his debut. It was just way too labored for me to enjoy. Respect, yeah. Watch a second time, doubtful.

But even if Brick has the feeling of something ready to get spoofed on the Internet, you could have said the same about Quentin Tarantino or Richard Kelly’s wacked out debut films. For now, I’m inclined to give it a pass and hope that in five years, this will look as refreshing as Reservoir Dogs or Donnie Darko.

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