Genre: The Delinquent Ones
Murder, secret codes, tough talk, drugs, lost love.
Did you know that...
"Brick" has its own vocabulary. The Bulls means The Cops, a gat is a gun, and Burg is short for Town or City.
A good detective story, when you get right down to it, is always about a woman. Along the road to discovery, on the way to the final climax, there's murder, molestation and sometimes a bag of money, but in the end, everything boils down to a woman. As is the case with "Brick".
Brendan Frye is the perpetual outsider, who has shunned the ideals of his peers and chosen to reject their lifestyle. Now he's reduced to being the freak who eats his lunch at the back of the school, but he was once connected to the world, he was once a playar.
When the love of his life, ex-girlfriend Emily, pleads for his help in a desperate phone call Brendan springs into action. He soon discovers that her troubles are somehow related to local drug lord The Pin. Trouble is every time he drops her name, people clam up. Something's rotten in the school yard and Brendan fears the worst. The next day Emily is found dead.
Emily's death is a wake-up call for Brendan. Determined to find out who killed her, and which one of her two-faced friends put her in that position, Brendan goes about re-entering the world he was once a part of.
Under the guise of being able to provide valuable information from The Principal's office Brendan manage to get hired by The Pin, as part of his crew. Once on the inside he'll be able to stir the pot and see what floats to the surface. And maybe then he'll have some answers for Emily's lingering soul.
"Brick" aspires to a new category of teenage film. A high school tale spliced with the gumshoe mysteries of the forties and fifties. It creates an alternate universe, bad to the bone, rotten to the core, which, while it's exaggerated, is built on a platform of familiarity.
This could be Anywhere High in Chinatown. The Maltese Falcon could be a bag of dope, stored in a locker room and the heat you feel around the corner is the principal. He administers only paper cuts, but they bleed worse than you think. Your only chance is to recruit the help of the nerdy kid hushed up in the back of the library. He's the guy with the ears to the ground and the low-down on what's what, and you better figure it out fast, or they'll find you face down in a trench breathing mud. That part is no different from the old movies.
In this world wannabe actresses, who cut their teeth on the local school play, use their power to will men to do anything. Come nightfall the agenda is set by femme fatales, daughters of the rich, preying on the weak minded jocks, who sell their soul with a quick bite of the apple, not knowing the full extent of the price they have to pay. During the day the hallways are ruled by hard-nosed detention-bound punks who also serve as the street-level dealers and wheelers. They'll break your leg without losing a moment of sleep, and why would they? They still live at home, and mom brings them cookies before they go to bed.
The ultimate bad guy, the end-level monster, is a man who's name is only whispered out of fear of disturbing the countless corpses he's no doubt left in his wake. In the real world he's just a boy who deals drugs, but in this world he's Keyser Soze. The spook story told to the kids to keep them out of trouble. "Better watch out Susie, you don't want The Pin to know you".
Then there's our lone hero, Brendan. Like The Yojimbo of Kurosawa's creation he finds himself in the middle of a war, and he knows the only way to make it out of there alive is to play his enemies against each other. Tom Reagan would be proud.
Director Rian Johnson knows his film noir. The true spirit of the genre is present in every fibre of the story, not just in the uncanny similarities between the social structure of the noir underworld and the high school ditto, or in the sharp innuendo laden dialogue, but also in the very thought pattern of the characters, who all seem to share an unspoken understanding of the rules they have to play by.
Johnson infuses his story with an astonishing, but also brain-numbing, amount of detail, which is especially true for the pitch perfect dialogue - urban teen slang to the umpteenth degree, a modern incarnation of the tough talk Bogart used woo the ladies and take down the bad guys with - which demands nothing less that the absolute and full attention of the viewer.
As if that wasn't enough, Johnson also litters the film with countless references to the classics of the genre. Some you'll miss, others you'll catch - and those are bound to make you smile - but they all bear witness to the fact that nothing in this film is random or irrelevant, and it would be a mistake to dismiss even the smallest details as a spur of the moment inclusion by an untrained director.
As regular visitors of the genre know, even the best intentions are rarely flawless, nor awarded with absolute success in the world of film noir. Again "Brick" stays true to its origins. Johnson's genius, but also his downfall, is that the story is almost too perfect, too well-constructed, too clever for its own good. Viewers with little or no understanding of film noir will most likely find it near impossible to wrap their mind around the intricate plot, or fail to appreciate how the apparently mundane setting of a high school, relates to the gin joints frequented by Bogart and his ilk, back in the day. The film is sure to alienate most of its audience, well before the story really gets going.
Another flaw is the abundance of empty master shots or intimate close-ups where nothing happens - surely a bona fide staple of the art house cinema, if ever there was one. They're used to create breathing space in the multilayered film, but some viewers will be annoyed with them, before they realize just how important they are.
In this writer's opinion, however, these points are infinitely small blemishes on "Brick's" otherwise sanitation white wrapsheet.
Yes, "Brick" can be a trying experience, but it's also incredibly rewarding. It deserves to have the same cult following as "Donnie Darko" or "Reservoir Dogs", but that's unlikely to happen, because this is not an easy film to love. It requires hard work. It doesn't invite the viewer into its world with open arms and a map to the treasure. Instead it hastily shows us the backdoor and whispers a secret password in our ear. And God forbid we should miss it the first time, because it certainly won't be repeated.