Monday, April 6, 2015

Brick

Having contemporary teenagers conversing in the language of early twentieth century noir speak (ala Dashiell Hammett) in your 2006 movie may seem like a gimmick, a stunt.  It certainly is, but it is also a refreshing way to view the interactions of twenty-first century high schoolers.  In writer/director Rian Johnson's BRICK, as in your typical noir, there is a murder and subsequent investigation, a protagonist wrongly accused, and a femme fatale.

BRICK is in color and its characters appear and act like many other filmic adolescents.   They are concerned with social dynamics and conformity.  There are cliques or gangs, if you will.  Johnson's points, at their most surface, are that people have always behaved in particular fashions, regardless of time or setting.  Usually, badly.  Fueled by unchecked desire and narcissism.  Some may have a sense of order, a code to follow that in their minds is moral and correct, though often at the peril of others who don't share their genetics or outlook on society.

"The Pin" (Lukas Haas) is a local mob moss, a heavy who dresses like a preppy and obeys his mother, making sure he is always home for dinner.  He follows some constructs he believes are just, but his conscience....he deals bricks of heroin.  The Pin employs some brawn, "Tug" (Noah Fleiss) who may have murdered Emily (Emilie de Raven), ex-girlfriend of Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who sets about to solve the mystery.  Evidence seems to point his way instead. There to murk things up even further is Laura (a well cast Laura Zehetner, who resembles Natalie Wood here), the flirty main squeeze of varsity lineman Brad (Brian J. White).  It all plays out in Southern California. 

Johnson's screenplay has all of the typical noir scenes: teasing, seductive lass, recurring flashbacks, confrontation at a murder scene, protagonist having his lights knocked out, verbal sparring between same and villain, consultations with an all-knowing spy about town.  Not so surprisingly, some scenes could've been pulled from any number of films directed at teenagers, be it SIXTEEN CANDLES, CAN'T HARDLY WAIT or even those silly BRING IT ON cheerleader flicks.

But the dialogue, much like the film's plot, is sometimes inpenetrable. It is in a distinctive 1930s argot.  Characters toss off lines line "the ape blows or I clam",  "she knows where I eat lunch," and "No, bulls would gum it. They'd flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes and probably find some yegg to pin, probably even the right one. But they'd trample the real tracks and scare the real players back into their holes, and if we're doing this I want the whole story. No cops, not for a bit".

By film's end, I had somewhat adjusted to this incongruity but the effect might've been even more pronounced than at film's opening, when the rapid fire rate of such yesteryear lines hit me like an oncoming, unexpected locomotive, if I may try my own ancient line. Johnson, who would later direct LOOPER and is slated to oversee the eighth and ninth STAR WARS chapters, has not created a spoof or clumsy mash-up but a truly original movie that, like so many projects that dare to play with fire stylistically (BIRDMAN et al.), always threatens to crash and burn. Yet, it steadily maintains its high wire act despite a few iffy moments.

Previously, others adapted Shakespeare plays in contemporary settings with original dialogue intact. Sometimes it flew (ROMEO and JULIET); sometimes it did not (2000's corporate set HAMLET). Despite what sounds like a wildly pretentious affair, BRICK holds its own and earns a spot in cinema history.

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