No 489 - Brick
Director - Rian Johnson
And so, after Trainspotting... we continue the heroin theme
This is a very difficult film to infiltrate. I've seen it twice now and whilst I know what is happening, I don't understand the hows or whys.
It seems that every character speaks in an impenetrable way. It isn't the accents, or the words themselves. Rather the delivery. A punchy, beat driven, hip cat way of speaking. That is beautifully melodic, impossibly cool and which washes over you. You get the drift of what has been said, but you wouldn't be able to recount any of it.
However, this plays to the films strength. Because it sounds like a gritty 1940's film noir. The language, the politics, the femmes fatales are all present and are all correct. This is the world of the private investigator. Set in a high school.
We have the aggressive, introverted, quiet loner, acting as the private detective (he'd probably be a chain smoking alcoholic if he wasn't 15). We have the damsel in distress - a broad who gets in far over her head (Claire from Lost, rocking the heroin chic), we have the femme fatales, the criminal kingpins and the law enforcement. It is all there... only at a school.
What is impressive is how well it works, and how there are only the occasional moments where you're forced to remember that these are 'children' in the story. The oldest character (if we don't include the principle or parents) is an 'old man' at 26. So instead of talk of jails or bars, we talk about the fears of detention and the internal politics of lunchtime cliques. A particularly genius moment sees our lead Brendan (an amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt revealing none of the suave cool he can effortlessly show and instead giving a bristling performance of nerd rage - the guy is a formidable actor) meet with the drug lord of the area The Pin (Richie from Mars Attacks, will wonders never cease). The scene is tense, The Pin has his goon Tugger with him and the threat of violence is imminent until they are joined by The Pin's mother. The immediate switch to nervous politeness is such an apt and truthful depiction of teenagers and a reminder that all of this is happening to a young group of people. Not the hard boiled roles they seem to portray.
Most of the characters in this film then fall into the stereotype roles of the classic film noir. Brendan is the tough but quiet investigator, getting gradually more dishevelled and beat up throughout. The Brain is exactly that, the provider of information that Brendan needs to solve his mystery. Principle Gary Trueman is the hard nosed law official who makes a deal with Brendan only to find that Brendan is playing outside of the rules.
However, the biggest surprise is Tugger. He begins the film as a very 1 dimensional character. He is the muscle. The Pin's bodyguard. Essentially, he is there to punch Brendan. And he does this. A lot.
However, he turns out to be a very rich and nuanced character and a beautifully flawed character. When you get his confession near the start of the final third, it is a really moving and emotional moment.
The fact that he tries to resolve all of his problems with bullets means he is also a mean mean person to cross.
But a film noir will live or die on its broads. This has some amazing Femme Fatales. Who quiver with sexual energy and who you know are dangerous. The most overtly sexual is Kara (played by the beautiful Meagan Good), the theatre student who seems to eat freshman for breakfast. She occasionally gives Brendan information but is mostly there to seduce him. Or attempt to. Brendan is far too single minded to think of any diversions.
Anyway, she is the red herring. The real Femme Fatale is Laura. A creature who fabulously hides her plotting and malicious streak behind unbelievable cuteness. Nora Zehetner is beautiful. She looks like a tinier, more elfin Summer from the OC. She swans around the film looking like a sophisticated French Novelle Vague pin up. But she is dangerous.
With all these characters we then have a fairly standard film noir story featuring murders, pregnancies, drug cutting and violence. In the set up, this is quite an old school story.
In the execution there are some wonderfully modern moments.
There is some amazing snap editing that jitters or pauses or whizzes around whenever Brendan gets beaten up (and he gets beaten up a lot) but the best bit is when Brendan is being chased by a knife wielding bully.
The chase is played in essentially silence. No dialogue. No score. Just the panicky clatter of Brendan's footfall being followed by the steady metronome like boom boom boom of his pursuer. It is a long scene and it is beautifully done. Mixing brave and modern cinematography into a very intelligent but very old fashioned story and script.
Go and watch it. But don't expect to understand what is being said. Just enjoy being washed with the sense of distant disenfranchised teenage cool and the ongoing tension as Brendan gets further and further over his head.