Review: Brick

Obsessively detailed and frequently absorbing, the film affects the form and function of a Rube Goldberg machine.

Photo: Focus Features

Obsessively detailed and frequently absorbing, Rian Johnson’s Brick affects the form and function of a Rube Goldberg machine, or a game of Milton Bradley’s Mouse Trap—it’s a complex construction with a simple and unsatisfying result. Film history is Johnson’s repository, and from it he picks out chunks of noir for a 500-piece puzzle that reveals a nameless Southern California high school as its background. Having fallen in with the popular kids, Emily (Emile de Ravin) is in trouble and her ex-boyfriend Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) senses moider. Before she turns up dead, Laura Palmer-style, outside an eerie drainage tunnel, Brendan has enlisted the help of The Brain (Matt O’Leary) to expose why Emily has gone missing and, later, the means by which she’s linked to a local drug ring operated by The Pin (Lukas Haas). Johnson’s characters resemble your average high school students but talk and act like familiar noir archetypes: every girl functions as a doomed dame, moll, or femme fatale—more explicitly, and this is given his sober outer shell and propensity for getting the shit beaten out of him, Brendan could be the offspring of Nicholson’s J.J. Gittes. What Johnson has done is apply the noir genre to a modern high school setting, except he’s forgotten to reinvent the wheel—he siphons the genre’s jargon, as well as its visual and acoustic pretenses (Brendan’s conversation with Emily inside a phone booth and his arrival at The Pin’s basement lair are marvels of sight and sound), but none of its moral and social consequence. Only in Brendan’s amusing encounters with a preening actress, Kara (Meagan Good), who literally employs undergrad boys as her lapdogs, does Johnson think beyond uncomplicated genre transposition. In these scenes, Johnson recognizes a correlation between the flow of power that passes through a high school’s pecking order and the authority that wears and tears the world of your average crackerjack noir. The rest is silencio, with noir idiom heaped onto modern high school life with such a willful lack of purpose you get a sense the film-school savvy Johnson could have replaced his setting with a McDonald’s and the effect would have been the same. The director has built a nifty-looking little contraption with a hollow center, with fingernails clean of grime—which means those who prefer their neo noir with Lynchian dressing should tread lightly.

 Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, Matt O'Leary, Emile de Ravin, Noah Segan, Richard Roundtree, Meagan Good, Brian White  Director: Rian Johnson  Screenwriter: Rian Johnson  Distributor: Focus Features  Running Time: 110 min  Rating: R  Year: 2005  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Story

Review: Last Holiday

Next Story

“F****** Gorgeous”