Brick (2005): ****
Directed by Rian Johnson
Brick is a gimmick movie. In order for
a gimmick movie to be any good, either (a) the gimmick has to be
so fantastic that watching it for 90+ minutes is plenty or (b) the
movie has to be more than its gimmick and stand on its own as a
good movie. Since I am giving Brick a four-star
review, I think it's safe to assume that it does one or the other.
The gimmick of this movie is that it is a straight-up,
hard-boiled, detective/ mystery movie from the 1940s transposed
directly into and early 21st century high school, keeping completely
intact the verbiage and cadence from those movies (think Double
Indemnity, The Big Sleep, or other movies based on
the works of Raymond Chandler). Thankfully the actors and the director,
everyone involved in the entire production in fact, keep completely
straight faces as to the asurdity of it all, and because the film
is so internally consistent it becomes believable. In wrestling
terms, they never "break kayfabe" to wink at the audience
like that Bugsy Malone movie did (a 1930s gangsters movie
acted by a bunch of li'l kids). As such the movie isn't a comedy,
any more than The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca.
You won't normally hear high school kids say, "Throw one at
me if you want, hash head. I've got all five senses and I slept
last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you."
It is a (a) fantastic gimmick, but fortunately
(b) the movie stands on its own as an excellent detective mystery
movie, with engaging characters, plot twists and backstabbing, a
sexy femme fatale, and a down-on-his-luck but tough-as-nails protagonist
who has to juggle all of the elements of the film and still find
a way to come out on top, solve a murder, bring down a drug kingpin
(played deliciously by Lukas Haas, as a "real old guy, like
26"), and not get killed in the process.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the main character Brendon,
a student still hung up on his ex who dumped him. Brendon routinely
gets the s--t beat out of him during the course of the movie but
doggedly keeps on getting up, even when he probably shouldn't. He
just gets more and more injured during the course of the movie,
and after he passes out another character concernedly remarkes that
he "swallowed a lot of blood." He is aided in his quest
by The Brain, a classic informant character who hangs out outside
the library and seems to have his fingers in most of the pies at
I can't give very much of the plot away, because
the joy in movies like this is trying to figure out the mystery
along with the main character. Can the skirt be trusted? Is the
obvious villain the real villain? In the end I couldn't think of
any obvious plot holes, which is a bonafide success in this genre.
There are tonnes of brilliant touches, such as
transforming the assistant vice-principal into a police chief-like
character (there's even a scene that bears remarkable resemblance
to one of those "turn in your badge" scenes). At one point,
Brendan gets fed up with him and just shouts, "No more of these
informal chats! If you have a disciplinary issue with me, write
me up or suspend me and I'll see you at the Parent-Teacher conference."
There are also a couple of scenes with mothers that are very funny
because of the logical absurdity of them—again, they're played
completely straight, but this time you can't help but laugh. And
But ultimately a review like this can't do a movie
like Brick justice. The movie is all style and moxie and
dames and fists and machismo and peculiarities of 30s slang and
language. It is absolutely brilliant.
A warning, though: Brick is not a blend
of the "hard-boiled detective movie" genre and the "high-shcool
movie" genre. It's a straight-up hard-boiled detective movie.
If you like hard-boiled detective movies you'll probably love it.
If you like high-shcool movies, you probably won't.