Aug 6, 2010

[Movies] Brick (2005)

Brick (2005)When I first watched the 1996 Romeo + Juliet movie (yes the one with Leo and Claire), I was pretty surprised by how much I enjoyed. I think what really got to me was how surreal yet enjoyable it was to have all these actors in a modern setting spewing out Shakespeare as if it was as normal as the sun rising in the east. At first it seemed a tad unusual but as the movie progressed, I became more and more in tune with the slight dichotomy of word and action. And I liked it. I've yet to see many movies like that one ever since. Heck, I can't even think of one right now, but maybe I'm just too tired from work or something.

The juxtopositioning of the old and the new is never a radically new concept, but it's always enjoyable to experience provided it's done well. And it doesn't always have to be about stories from the Shakespearian era - history is teeming with so many different writing styles and storytelling methodologies that there's no running out of possible ideas and designs. And I'm not talking about revivals of old stories - this is about new stories using old voices, in a manner of speaking.

But it always comes back to heightening this contrast by also employing younger talent, it seems. New stories with old voices as presented by young actors. And thus you have these old lines strangely coming out of the lips of more youthful stars to great effect, or in some cases horrendous results. It all really depends on the strength of the actors, the vision of the director and the ability of everyone involved to combine all the elements together into something more.

Brick is a modern take on the noir-style detective story. But instead of some impoverished gumshoe in a seedy part of town, we're given a bunch of high school kids with their own social cliques, crime families and illegal operations. This movie was Rian Johnson's directorial debut and went on to win numerous awards at various film festivals.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Nora Zehetner.Image via Wikipedia
The story begins like any other good crime story - with a dead girl and a boy who loved her. The role of the gumshoe is fulfilled by Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he discovers the dead body of his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), lying in some storm drain. He doesn't quite know what happened and thus he starts to look back at the events of the past few days as he takes up the challenge of discovering why she was died Just the day before he had received a frantic call from her where she mentioned something about a brick being bad and someone known as the Pin being on to her.

He's not entirely alone in his investigations. He's supported by an anti-social geek known as The Brain (Matt O'Leary), who helps gather information for Brendan as well as connect the dots between the pieces. He's also managed to worm his way into the heart of the vice-principal of his high school (Richard Roundtree) and is using this to act as a insider for him, if only to gain more information that he can use to his advantage. Brendan's quest of sorts brings him deep into the upper crusts of high school society. Drug use is rampant and it's hard to tell if anyone is telling the truth, but Brendan remains determined and steadfast. He will find Emily's killer and understand the reason for her death.

The movie was a bit hard to follow at first since it took me a while to adjust to the unusual dialog in the movie. Just because it featured a lot of young actors in a high school setting didn't mean the concepts discussed were simple at all. Instead they spoke in a sort of updated noir-style speech with such euphemisms as "You know where I eat lunch" referring to school social circles as defined by your cafeteria table mates and many others. Plus the dialog is quick and wordy and thus if you're not paying attention, you might miss something. Then again, this is still a detective story at heart and attention to detail is always key.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt was every bit the hardboiled detective in a young man's body. He's smart, determined and won't let anyone push him around. He's not afraid to get into a fight and he certainly put his all into every physical encounter he found himself in during the movie. It seemed strange at times to have this little guy going toe-to-toe with some of the bigger, more physically imposing goons in the movie, but he does this all pretty well and manages to survive through the various challenges. After all, he's supposed to be a man on a mission and Gordon-Levitt managed to bring an intensity and passion to his portrayal that really did something special for the movie.

The overall storytelling style is interesting and quite unique - a good blend of the old and the new in a single movie. One could clearly see the homages and nods to older crime noir films and yet at the same time he also diverges to show more modern concepts and ideas as part of the high school setting. But it's still a detective story complete with mindless thugs, scheming crime bosses and their mothers who serve juice in special glasses. It all sounds pretty fucked up, I know, but that's precisely the world that Johnson has created.

The movie does feel a tad long, but then it's still faster than the original noir films of old, so I guess that's a modest compromise. But it's certainly worth the time and effort to go through, although repeat viewings may be necessary to fully get the story.

Brick is a refreshing take on the detective drama and a certainly creative one given how the story was told. It gets 4 water pitchers in the shape of a rooster out of a possible 5.
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