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2005 mystery film that takes place in a high school

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Eh, um, well . . . I've seen better and worse

  • Feb 13, 2009
Pros: True indie look and feel, easy to like characters by and large

Cons: The story gets lost more than once, ending is sudden and tacked on.

The Bottom Line: It'd hard to recommend or say avoid.  It is ok and worth considering, beyond that . . . if you like any actor, you will likely not be disappointed.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

I just glanced at the average rating for Brick: 4 stars.  I will be the 11th, so my review and rating will not budge it much, but it would budge it toward 3.

Before I go into the meat of the summary and analysis, I want to say that all in all, auteur Rian Johnson used the best qualities of independent film throughout; it was a bit rough around the edges, the performances were strong but not all that rehearsed, odd camera angles were chosen for the purpose of using them rather than them holding any symbolic motive.  Essentially, these are the sub-rosa things that lovers of indie films want.

Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds his former girlfriend dead, lying at the mouth of a culvert.  This is the middle of the story.  So, from the beginning we know that the film will be told in two different halves.  The “beginning” of the linear story occurs with a panicked call from Emily, the former girlfriend.  She uses 4 words that make no sense on their own (after this we get the death in sequence). 

Enter The Brain (Matt O’Leary) who knows the whole social network of the school but especially of the “upper crust” which is the one that Brendan has to get into in order to gain the information he needs.

His search takes him to someone called The Pin (Lucas Haas)—he is the kingpin of a group of dealers who have taken on the risky but highly rewarding business of heroin distribution . 

Brendan’s search takes him first to a very odd party where he is given a clue that points him to a group of burned out potheads the leader of whom has some information that Brendan beats out of him.  Shortly after this, Brendan learns from The Brain details about how the  “upper crust” work and how they use symbols and the like to communicate in a way only they can understand.

Brendan goes into what is called deep background to enter the drug world.  Anymore and I give away the plot.

For a change, there will be no plot spoilers in the analysis—very rare for this reviewer.

Rian Johnson’s eye is completely tuned to the indie model mentioned earlier: rough around the edges, not lots of rehearsal time, strange and mostly meaningless camera angles and low quality film stock that make most things very grainy.

The plot and delivery are where the movie fails.  While the indie quality is oddly refreshing after good but highly polished films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, that look and feel cannot be the only driver—they are.  The plot, while interesting, spins so quickly out of control it becomes nearly impossible to see how they tie to the dead former girlfriend—remember this is a film about finding her killer.

I think, before writing the film, Mr. Johnson read one too many Ramond Candler novels; while putting the film together, he saw one too many David Lynch productions particularly Twin Peaks.  There are some very well spoken, very quickly spoken slang like “Keep your specks pealed for [insert name] if he is early the whole thing comes crashing down and only one of us will make it, if that many.”  Not a great example but it transmits the idea.  The Brain is the one whose specks need to be pealed at all times (he is truly the only interesting character in the film) drives so much of the film despite his relatively small amount of time on the screen.  One thing about this Chandler stuff: the fight sequences are truly funny and most of the true violence happens off screen—the beaten bodies come from nearly all angles only after they’ve been hit.

The Lynch stuff is so obvious that it was tiresome.  There is a dead girl by a stream of some sort, in Brick she isn’t wrapped in plastic but how she got there and why becomes the focus.  The film contains a strange party of the upper crust that exists only as a plot driver, a 10 minute plot driver that actually serves to shift from murder to drugs.  Lucas Haas plays a character who works in a tiny basement room that has all the claustrophobia that Mr. Lynch likes to use to keep audiences uneasy.  Mr. Haas’s character has one leg shorter than the other, so has to wear corrective shoes (the only difference here and between TP is that Mr. Haas is about three times the size of the man in TP).  Finally, there is the utterly absurd situation with The Pin’s mother.  She serves juice and cereal to the group of thugs as if they were just wife-beater shirt wearing boy scouts.  It is a bit funny, but only a bit—since, thematically it is out of place, it is just a piece of the absurd thrown in when the story could have survived well enough without it.

The acting was decent.  The way the film was constructed was good.  The plot so unbelievable makes the film, finally, fall apart.  Oh, and the girl . . .  Oh, and we must remember that the people involved are all in high school.

It doesn’t suck, but it has a long way to go to bet beyond the precipice of sucking badly.


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Paul Savage ()
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I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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About this movie


High school collides with hard-boiled film noir in the twisty, cunningBrick. When he gets a mysterious message from his ex-girlfriend, a high school loner named Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt,Mysterious Skin) starts to dig into a crisscrossed web of drugs and duplicity, eventually getting entwined in the criminal doings of a teenage crime lord known as the Pin (Lukas Haas), his thuggish henchman Tugger (Noah Fleiss,Joe the King), and a mysterious girl named Laura (Nora Zehetner,Fifty Pills).Brickhas not only the seductive, labyrinthine plot of a crime thriller by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) or Raymond Chandler (Farewell, My Lovely) but also a dense high-school version of hard-boiled lingo that's both comic and poetic. The movie unfolds with headlong momentum as Brendan manipulates, fights, and staggers his way through layers of high-school society. Gordon-Levitt is excellent; between this and the equally compellingMysterious Skin, he's left his3rd Rock from the Sundays behind. Also featuring Meagan Good (Waist Deep) and Richard Roundtree (Shaft).--Bret Fetzer
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Director: Rian Johnson
Genre: Drama
Release Date: March 31, 2006
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: August 8, 2006
Runtime: 1hr 57min
Studio: Universal Studios, Focus Features, Rogue Pictures
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