Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Brick (2005)

2005's Brick, a fascinating modern day high school film, subscribes to all the conventions and idiosyncrasies of, wait for it, hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1930s. Imagine, if you will, John Hughes and Cameron Crowe collaborating together on a script, only to be fired by their producer and replaced by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The conceit of Brick is that all of its characters, high school students, speak and opine in the meter and slang of The Glass Key. Well, not that book in particular, but its variety and ilk. There's no irony or camera winks, either, these students speak as if it were perfectly naturally to do so in that fashion. To boot, the plot, wonderfully convoluted as only the hard-boiled detective genre can be, follows these cliches, as well, but updates them, necessarily, so as to take place in a twenty-first century high school. There's this remark made by our protagonist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to the femme fatale (the rather lovely Nora Zehetner, who you might know as the late Eden from Heroes):

I can't trust you. Brad was a sap, you weren't, you were with him and so you were playing him, so you're a player. With you behind me I'd have to tie one eye up watching both your hands and I can't spare it.

High school students do not talk like Sam Spade or Ned Beaumont. Were I reading that excerpt of dialogue without having seen the film, I would raise an eyebrow and scoff. But in this film, it works, down to the conventions of the detective genre and the characters' offbeat nicknames. Once you suspend your disbelief long enough to accept that these seventy year old conventions apply to a modern high school, you're hooked. It's The Breakfast Club meets Miller's Crossing.

Gordon-Levitt you may recognize from the dreadful, dreadful 1990s sitcom, Third Rock from the Sun. He's made an effort of late to distance himself from that more mainstream fare with this film and 2001's Manic, a chronicle of a young man's stay at a juvenile mental facility shot entirely on digital video. The only other actors who will seem familiar are Lukas Haas (as a would-be drug kingpin), Emilie de Ravin (who you might know as Claire from Lost), and Richard Roundtree (in a brief cameo as an assistant vice principal, one of the few adults in the cast of characters). You may not dig the offbeat approach to the high school film, but you can't say it's not different. These days, with all of the detritus at the multiplexes, it's nice to see something at least attempt to be different or creative, and that is what this film does, especially if you love the 1930s.

1 comment:

Steven said...

This was an excellent, if stiltedly paced, film. Gordon-Levitt is definitely pursuing that Robert Downey track towards skillful acting. I thought his turn as a hockey pro turned unreliable narrator, er, janitor, in "The Lookout" was also worthy.