Monday, September 24, 2012

Brick


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/24/06 w/ Additional Edits.



Written, edited, and directed by Rian Johnson, Brick is the story of a high school kid trying to discover the mystery of his ex-girlfriend's disappearance. In his feature-film debut, Johnson brings the high school movies to darker levels that is reminiscent of film noir. Giving the high school outsider the chance to be a protagonist, the film reveals many dark levels of high school and everything that troubles young teens. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Emilie de Ravin, Meagan Good, Noah Fleiss, Matt O'Leary, Nora Zehetner, and Richard Roundtree. Brick is truly one of the year's most harrowing and intriguing takes on the film-noir genre from the brilliant Rian Johnson.

On another day in high school, Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) receives a mysterious, troubling phone call from his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin). With his best friend Brain (Matt O'Leary), they wonder what happened to her two months ago that led to his break-up where he would try to gather notes. After finding a mysterious red card, he talks to the school's top actress in Kara (Meagan Good) about the card which is an invitation to a party by rich girl Laura (Nora Zehetner). Brendan attends the party in secrecy which is a bothersome to Laura's jock-boyfriend Brad (Brian J. White) where Laura notices him as they briefly talk before she goes outside to talk to a mysterious guy with a black car. The next day, Brendan confronts a Goth-like stoner named Dode (Noah Segan) on Emily's whereabouts. Later, he finds a haggard Emily who just wants a final conversation as she's become addicted to drugs and isn't telling Brendan about anything.

Brendan however, has stolen her notepad that features a mysterious note which features a time and a place to meet. That's when Brendan finds Emily, dead in a sewer tunnel. He hides her after finding someone looking on as he decides to investigate everything. He already suspects the involvement of Dode and Kara while finding a link to a local drug kingpin known as the Pin (Lukas Haas). Learning that Brad is a customer of the Pin, he ends up being quickly assaulted by a muscle-man named Tugger (Noah Fleiss). The assault has put him in the office of the school's vice principal Trueman (Richard Roundtree) who wants a full investigation on Emily's disappearance but Brendan, refuses to cooperate after a recent cooperation got one of his friends in trouble. With Brain as the only person he can trust, Brain decides to watch out for Dode and Kara while he had been contacted by Laura. Laura wants to help out as she knows the Pin while Brendan continues to get assaulted by Tugger only to keep going after him that leads him to the home of the Pin.

Brendan meets the Pin who is aware that Brendan knows something as he makes a deal on the sale of the last brick full of drugs. The Pin still wants to know about the last one that put a fellow customer in a coma where Brendan feels there's a connection. Plagued by internal injuries and a growing sense of paranoia, Brendan has another confrontation with Dode, who reveals a troubling information about her. With Dode planning to reveal more to the Pin, it all becomes trouble as Brendan learns of Tugger's emotional dysfunction that troubles his association with the Pin. With Laura comforting him, Brendan learns more of what goes on. What Kara had tried to plan and the troubling relationship between the Pin and Tugger as he gets closer to Emily's death and the involvement of a brick-shaped drug.

The idea of a high school noir film might seem like a gimmick where people would get the idea of young high school kids trying to talk like Humphrey Bogart and have some meandering voice-over narration. Well, Rian Johnson uses his knowledge of noir novels and films along with the stark experience of high school to create an entirely original approach to noir. Using high school as the centerpiece of the mystery, Johnson chooses the high school loner/outsider as his protagonist instead of the nerd, jock, preppie, or any kind of typical cliques of high school. The film is really about a loner who tries to investigate his ex-girlfriend's death and how he immersed himself into a world full of cliques involving drugs. The result is a mystery that builds its momentum with great energy and excitement of young independent cinema with the psychological style and wit of old-school noir films.

Johnson's writing is filled with great, intense dialogue that mixes modern-day conversation with traditional, noir-like wordplay that becomes more of today's language. The talking is a bit fast yet works in the rhythm of traditional noir while a lot of the conversations and rapport between characters. Johnson's approach to mystery is far-more complex and layered than traditional mystery films where Brendan tries to find out everything and the more he searches, he begins to piece things right to the end. Yet, since Johnson sets the film in high school, he avoids the usual world of high school that's been known in John Hughes films.

That's where Johnson's directing is really at its most ominous since he uses high school as a sense of discomfort to Brendan's role in being a loner. Brendan is a smart kid yet couldn't put himself in the world of cliques since he doesn't really like anyone except for the Brain. Johnson even goes as far as to explore the world of stoners and rich cliques as more than just the one-dimensional stereotype while the only stereotype that is displayed in great form is the character of Brian. Johnson's directing captures the atmosphere of not just high school but the dark, bland world of suburbia where it has the sense of energy and eeriness of some of the films of Gregg Araki as well as Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko. With Johnson also serving as editor, his cutting brings a perspective and rhythm that is energetic to display the paranoia that Brendan suffers as well as wonderful jump-cuts that brings a disjointed tone to the film. Overall, Johnson's writing, directing, and editing is top-notch.

Helping Johnson in his visual presentation is cinematographer Steve Yedlin whose color schemes and lighting creates an ominous, intimate tone in some of the interiors including a wonderful lighting sequence in a scene involving the brick. The exteriors are a bit gray to convey the atmosphere that is high school along with some wonderful coloring to view the sunlight as some of the shots are a mix of blue-gray for some scenes. Production designer Jodie Tillen along with set decorator Shara Kasprack do great work in the interior designs for some of the homes, notably Laura's home that is decorated with candles. The best design in the film is the room of the Pin that is very spacious with colorful carpets and wall that only features a few chairs and a desk. Costume designer Michele Posch also does great work in the costumes whether is the Goth-like clothing of Dode and the Pin to the array of fashionable clothing worn by Laura and the stage costumes of Kara. Sound designer Jonathan Miller also does great work with the sound to convey the atmosphere, notably a scene on the beach where the clashing of waves and trains are wonderfully mixed.

Composer Nathan Johnson along with Larry Seymour creates a great, timbre-like score filled with disjointed ukelele melodies and a strange, saloon-like piano score that is nearly reminiscent of some of the music Ennio Morricone made in Sergio Leone's classic gangster film Once Upon a Time in America. Johnson's score is rich in not playing to traditional score work of noir-films in rather setting the fierce atmosphere that Brendan is in. The film's soundtrack features music from the play The Mikado where the song The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze is performed wonderfully by Nora Zehetner along with traditional cuts like Frankie And Johnny, a metal track from The Hospital Bombers Experience, and the classic Sister Ray from the Velvet Underground.

Finally, there’s the film's wonderful ensemble cast that includes an energetic yet intentionally annoying performance from Brian J. White as the jock Brian who thinks he rules the school only to underestimate Brendan. The legendary Richard Roundtree is only in the film briefly as the school's vice principal who wants to know what goes on as Roundtree serves as the only adult in the film as he does some fine work. Lost's Emilie de Ravin is excellent in her role as Emily with her eerie presence and disintegrated look as she plays a would-be victim who doesn't know what she got herself into while carrying a dark secret. Noah Segan is excellent as the Goth stoner Dode with his thin, troubling look as a guy who hopes to blackmail Brendan with some information while being completely unaware what he's gotten himself into. Meagan Good is also good as the seductive Kara who uses her sex appeal in hoping to win over Brendan into getting some information as Good brings a lot of sexiness and charm to play the character.

Noah Fleiss gives a great performance as the muscle-man Tugger with his fierce attitude and physique where he is a big threat while is trying to find some questions about the brick. Fleiss also shows his sensitivity where he proves that Tugger is more than a muscle-man but someone who knows a thing or two about power. Matt O'Leary is amazing as fellow loner the Brain with his witty speech and knowledge on what he knows. O'Leary is really the great sidekick that Gordon-Levitt needed as he also serves as a moral conscience for the film and the one who grounds Brendan.

In a role that is many miles away from the innocent boy in Witness, Lukas Haas delivers what could be his best performance as the Goth-like kingpin known as the Pin. Haas brings a disconcerting presence that is very attentive as he is a smart man that is very powerful while trying to make a business in the basement of his mother's home. Nora Zehetner of Everwood gives a real breakthrough as the film's femme fatale Laura. With a seductive yet haunting presence, Zehetner really shines with her ode to noir while adding edge to a character who knows a lot yet could be trouble for Brendan. Zehetner has great chemistry with Gordon-Levitt as she proves herself to be sexy yet dangerous.

Following such challenging roles in Manic and Gregg Arak's classic 2004 film Mysterious Skin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has continued to become a more powerful, complex actor since his days as a child star. Gordon-Levitt gives Brendan a sense of old-school noir-like caricature that is natural and stylistic while bringing a darker sensibility in being a loner. Gordon-Levitt also proves that he can carry a film while not acting like the typical movie star. He displays his angst and concern with such brutal honesty that it's probably his most realistic portrayal of any character that he brings. With this film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has now taken a step into being one of the most provocative actors of his generation.

The Region 1 DVD from Focus Features presents the film in the anamorphic widescreen format ratio of 1:85:1 along English 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound including subtitles in Spanish, French, and English for the hearing impaired. The DVD includes three DVD trailers for Michel Gondry's Dave Chappelle's Block Party, the horror film Slither, and Spike Lee's The Inside Man. Three special features are included into the film. The first is a three-minute featurette entitled The Inside Track: Casting the Roles which includes auditions from Nora Zehetner and Noah Segan playing their roles in a 2003 audition with a casting director that showed why they got their roles.

The second featurette is a 22-minute gallery of extended and deleted scenes with an introduction to each scene from Rian Johnson. Eight scenes including an extended performance of Zehetner singing The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze, three scenes with her and Gordon-Levitt, an extended phone conversation between Brendan and the Brain, an extended meeting with Brendan and Kara, and a strange yet cheesy dream sequence reveals Johnson's reasons for cutting these scenes. Several of them were due to timing which made the film ran over two hours and a few including the scenes with Brendan and Laura were plagued with sound problems. It's a great feature that includes photos with some nice insight from Johnson.

The final special feature is an audio commentary track from Rian Johnson who talks about his influences, notably writer Dashiell Hammett and the Coen Brothers film Miller's Crossing about the language of the film in its ode to noir. During the entire commentary, he talks in brief conversations in individual moments with actors Nora Zehetner and Noah Segan along with production designer Jodie Tillen, costume designer Michele Posch, and producer Ram Bergman. Each guest talk about their own experience as Zehetner recalls that she and Rian worked before since he worked as an editor in May by Lucky McKee which she was in. Segan talks about his clothing while towards the final credits, there's a funny surprise concerning producer Ram Bergman. Though the commentary style is a bit unconventional, it's insightful and entertaining.

Brick is an extraordinary film from Rian Johnson that features an incredible lead performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film is definitely one of the most unique films that transcends genres thanks to its noir-inspired dialogue, unique camera work, brooding music, stylized editing, and an amazing supporting cast that includes Nora Zehetner and Lukas Haas. In the end, Brick is an entrancing yet exhilarating film from Rian Johnson.

Rian Johnson Films: The Brothers Bloom - Looper

(C) thevoid99 2012

1 comment:

Chip Lary said...

I liked this film a lot. The combination of noir with high school isn't one that I would necessarily think would work, but boy does this film come together wonderfully.