Directed by Rian Johnson
Written by Rian Johnson
Cast: Emilie de Ravin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Matt O’Leary, Nora Zehetner, and Noah Fleiss
Length: 1 hour and 50 minutes
Genre: Action, crime, drama
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.”
After receiving a cryptic phone call from his frightened ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie De Ravin), high school student Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) begins to dig around a crime ring centered in his school. He soon discovers her involvement with people outside her usual social circle and hears whispers of the enigmatic drug lord, The Pin (Lukas Haas), before finding Emily’s body abandoned in a secluded place. Seeking out his friend, Brain (Matt O’Leary), for help, Brendan decides to take down the people who caused Emily’s death. He uses contacts in the high school underworld from a previous sting that caused his falling out with Emily, and soon finds himself in the attention of the alluring Laura (Nora Zehetner), who may be the key to unraveling the identity of Emily’s killer.
Brick (2005) is essentially a hard-boiled detective story set in a high school. Rather than following a cynical private investigator as he is sucked into a case, barely escaping the clutches of a femme fatale and the forces of crime, Brendan is sucked into his ex’s disappearance, barely escaping the clutches of a femme fatale and the forces of…crime, but at the high school level. There is a little bit of comic juxtaposition due to this when Brendan sits down with The Pin and his enforcer, Tug (Noah Fleiss), to talk over business while The Pin’s mother goes about getting them snacks and juice. However, the basic building blocks of the genre are there; Brendan uses Brain as a way to get information regarding all of the cliques around the school. He then dives into the seedy underbelly of the drug ring, which as we later find out, he has been in before. Emily coming to him for help is similar to the way it is typically plotted in hard-boiled detective stories, with her calling him through a pay phone, which serves as one of his methods of communication.
Communication in the film is also heavily influenced by the way the lines are both written and performed. Dialogue is delivered quickly, especially in Brendan’s interactions with Brain and Laura; the two other characters who can keep up with his fast thought process and planning. There is also an entire language of slang used by the characters. When Brendan decides to track down Emily’s killer, Brain asks him if he wants to call in the bulls (police), and title of the film comes from a “brick” of heroin that ties into Emily’s disappearance and eventual death. The quick delivery of these terms and others retain a level of confusion for the viewer the first time they watch the film. They are along for the ride, figuring out each clue as Brendan does so that when he reveals the true culprit at the end of the film and spells it all out, it is a true revelation.
Sound plays a huge part in the storytelling of Brick (2005) and is emphasized accordingly. The music of the film creates a mysterious tone with its eerie bells, chimes, and melodies that follow Brendan throughout. Diegetic sound is also integral in the aural experience; during the early part of the film, we can see the lighting of a cigarette in the background multiple times, accompanied by a clearly audible striking of the match. This shows the ever-present idea of the mysterious Pin in Brendan’s mind while trying to find Emily. While being chased by an unknown man with a knife, we hear the cadence of Brendan’s footfalls while he sprints, with the heavier and more spaced out pounding of his pursuer’s boots follows. He is able to slide around a corner and take off his shoes to confuse his assailant, who was following him by sound when Brendan was out of sight. Shoes do not only feature in this scene, though their sound is most prevalent. The camera in Brick (2005) follows the shoes of characters almost as much as it does their faces. Each character has their own unique pair, and this is heavily emphasized. We often see the character’s emotions reflected in their feet; whether it is Emily’s restless feet while telling Brendan to forget her, Brendan’s tentative steps toward Emily’s body, or The Pin’s one enlarged boot.
I first watched Brick (2005) in a film genres course while in college. This was the film we saw as an example of the hard-boiled detective genre, which was far more interesting than watching a “classic” example. There is a lot to unpack from this film, and I barely touched on the imagery, the acting, and the writing. Brick (2005) leaves a lasting impression on the viewer, not only for its reinvention of the genre, but in the way it goes about updating and changing the way a hard-boiled detective story can be told. This is far less known than Johnson’s other films since it was his first, but I think it shows his creativity and ingenuity at its finest.
Verdict: 4 hard-boiled high schoolers out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, people who like complex plots, fans of Looper (2012), shoe enthusiasts, and adults.
Not recommended for: The easily confused, those who dislike high schoolers, people afraid of those with three names, those who dislike slang, or children.