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Brick (2005)

by on 2011/02/13

“You’re the only thing I love.”

* * * *

If famed Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni made an American teen drama, it would be a lot like Brick. Existentialist, post-modern, haunting. Brick, written and directed by Rian Johnson, put me in mind of The Passenger, sharing the same fondness for long, introspective shots of solitary figures in geometric corridors, tunnels and roadways.

Brick tells the story of Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an angry high school loner, on a mission to find out what happened to his beloved, Emily (Emilie de Ravin).

In this world, “lunch is a lot of things” and “who is she eating with?” is a profound existential question. Where you eat and with whom is everything in the Brick universe.

Tellingly, Brendan eats alone behind the high school portables. It was not always thus. For a time Brendan ate with Emily.

All of the teen cliques are on display in Brick. There are the popular kids, the jocks, the stoners and the drama geeks. But in the world of Brick, the backstage of the drama department is like the Moulin Rouge cabaret. The jocks are more viscerally ape-like and menacing. The stoners are feral and bloodless, like the murderous undead.

The “cream of the upper crust” are like the teen Great Gatsby, all fancy parties, cocktail skirts, pumps and peacock feather fascinators. Pretty, popular girls recite poems about the sun with the word “effulgent” in them. They communicate with secret codes, assignations at midnight and notes folded in geometrically shaped origami.

Brendan is all curly bangs, rumpled khaki, shining patent leather shoes and angst. Fiercely protective of the blonde, fragile and unbalanced Emily, he finds out Emily’s “screwed up real bad” and has gotten herself involved in something deadly.

One of the key supporting actors in this film is the pay phone. In our reality and that of Brick‘s, only the most nefarious and extreme conversations are conducted on pay phones. It is on a pay phone that Brendan hears some of Emily’s final words. She utters a sentence that makes no sense to him. The sentence includes the words “tug” and “pin” and “brick.”

Obsessed with finding out the truth, Brendan enlists the help of his only ally, The Brain (Matt O’Leary), a low-rent teen Merovingian who specializes in knowing things about the ebbs and flows of his high school world, and particularly knowing things about …lunch. With The Brain running recon, Brendan turns J. J. Gittes, investigating the cliques Emily wound herself around during the final days of her life.

The film’s dialogue becomes even more hard boiled at this point. Here’s a sample:

“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.”

On the stark black and white of text, yes, it does look a bit silly. But there’s something about this dialogue coming out of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s mouth that’s fascinating and quite addictive.

As a direct result of his gumshoe act, Brendan winds up beaten and bloodier than John McClane in the second act of Die Hard. He uncovers a dark, sinister heroin smuggling ring, the headquarters of which is located in the wood-panelled basement of a drab suburban home.

Brendan comes face to face with the ring’s unlikely puppet master. The Kingpin or “Pin” of the teen underworld is played by cape-wearing, cane-wielding Lukas Haas (Witness). This shady, heroin-dealing Moriarty is helped by his muscle Tug (Noah Fleiss), a wife-beater-wearing knuckle dragger who beats Brendan into a bloody pulp (repeatedly).

Brendan is also dogged by the porcelain pretty femme fatale Laura (Nora Zehetner). There certainly weren’t girls like her in my high school.

As the mystery unravels, so does Brendan. As I reached the film’s climax, I was hooked, line and sinker, on Brick. In love with the art style, the film noir language on my lips for hours after the credits rolled, Brick is a new obsession (and I do have a few).

I should have listened to my clever sister who told me just after it came out in 2005, “Don’t think. Don’t question. Just buy it.” She was right.

* * * *

110 minutes

PG-14A for drug references and use, bloody violence and hard-boiled gumshoe-speak

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