Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Brick



I'd heard a lot of this movie before I saw it, and in spite of a few initial hangups, it won me over.
If you haven't heard anything of the movie, it is a modern interpretation of the old 40's and 50's Film Noir genre played out in a high school setting. If you're unfamiliar with the genre, think of films like The Maltese Falcon, Kiss Me Deadly, The Big Sleep, The Third Man, etc. They usually center around a lone hero with a rough side and a less than spotless past who must delve into the criminal underworld without the cops' help to solve some sordid mystery.

It took me a while to get accustomed to the lingo and the slang employed in Brick, and I don't consider myself a stranger to Noir films. But once I adapted to the film's style, I was impressed by the camera angles, the lighting, and the overall drive of the plot, all of which (in spite of the fact that it was filmed in color) recreated the noir atmosphere very well.

The movie starts with Brendan (played stoically by Joseph Gordon Levitt of Third Rock from The Sun fame) wringing his hands as he crouches in a drainage ditch viewing a young woman's dead body. The next scene introduces the opening act, which is a flashback recalling the events that led to this drainage ditch scene. Brendan begins investigating his ex-girlfriend Emily's current situation after receiving her frantic phone call laced with slang that even Brendan can't decipher. He enlists the help of his friend The Brain, who acts as his secret source of intel throughout the film. With a bit of digging, questioning, and pickpocketing, Brendan unveils the location of a secret rendezvous his girlfriend is to have with some member of an underground drug network, but he does so too late, and we are brought back to the opening scene, in which Brendan is staring at Emily's dead body. Brendan tries to get The Brain to discourage him from diving into this mystery, who does so, but of course, to no avail. Brendan pledges to dive in deep to uncover Emily's murderer, and we have a movie.

Levitt plays the part as dead-pan as can be imagined. I don't think he smiles once in the entire movie; even as dire as circumstances were for Bogart's Spade or Marlowe, he would still smirk and offer wisecracks, but Levitt's stone-faced portrayal works in this film all the same, because this mystery is personal. It isn't just any old pretty-faced dame that's come into his PI's office to propel him on a quest after some stolen trinket, but it's his dead ex-girlfriend, whom, as the film reveals, is someone he deeply loved.

The supporting cast fill their roles no less adequately. Matt O'Leary is a lot of fun as Brendan's brainy sidekick. Noah Fleiss plays the intimidating muscle-bound thug to a T, and Heroes' star Nora Zehetner keeps you guessing what's going on behind her eyes the entire film.

The dialogue is delivered with machine-gun rapidity, but it fits the style. The cinematography is great, lots of good shot setups, and some well-planned locations. In addition, there are a couple of unforgettable movie moments: Brendan playing chicken with a speeding mustang and a nail-biting showdown between the ex-es in the drainage ditch in which Emily's body was found.

All this combines to make a great film. There's nothing necessarily revolutionary about the plot or theme, but it's done so well that you won't notice. And of course, revolution is not what this movie seeks to accomplish, but reinterpretation, and it does this flawlessly.
***1/2 of ****

2 comments:

stephen said...

Nice. I just saw Chinatown for the first time last week, keeping in with the whole noir thing. Really good, albeit pretty dark. I guess that's how noir goes, though.

Ford said...

Yeah, they say Chinatown is the revolution to the Noir genre actually. I haven't seen it, but doesn't it have Nicholson actually losing his battle? It was one of those movies like Million Dollar Baby that defied your expectations and the genre by having the bad guy win.