Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Film Appreciation - She called me a dirty word

This week in Film Appreciation, Jay Burleson discusses the 2005 neo-noir film Brick.

Per IMDb:
A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.

I've only ever laid eyes on one film that felt like it was made for me. It's as if the filmmakers had crawled into my brain and crafted something from my own thoughts.  The film is Brick, a 2005 film from writer/director Rian Johnson. A neo-noir set in a modern high school. The premise alone sounded perfect for me, and the film itself exceeded any expectations that I could have possibly had for it.

Brick is a wonderfully stylized modern day noir film that follows the journey of high school loner Brendan Frye as he's pulled into the underbelly of his school's social scene in an attempt to help his first true love. Once Brendan becomes involved, he can't turn back, and the audience is thrown into a pitch perfect mystery that takes an interesting look at high school politics while applying all of the normal characteristics of a classic detective story. The film is wound tight with stylish dialogue as well as engaging characters and never misses a beat as each layer of the story is revealed.

I didn't see Brick until November of 2008, but I remember that time in my life very vividly. I can see the dreary fall perfectly in my mind, the way the yard looked from our two story window of the home we occupied at the time. Our living room was basically vacant after two other roommates had moved out, and I watched Brick in our lonely living room, alone. I then watched it again, and again with my roommate, Bart, once he arrived home from work and I forced the film upon him. Since that time I have always jumped at the opportunity to share Brick with anyone who was interested, and I never grow tired of another viewing.

To say Brick is perfect would be unfair, but the film is everything that a great indie film should be. It's full of heart and determination, beating all the odds that were against its tiny budget, and it offers something original and awe-inspiring. Joseph Gordon-Levitt earned a ton of respect from me with his performance as Brendan, a hardheaded and determined teenager who becomes hellbent on getting to the bottom of his ex-girlfriend's disappearance.  All of the characters are brought to life rather perfectly though, from Nora Zehetner's portrayal of the femme fatale, Laura, to Noah Segan's doped out Dode. Even Emilie de Ravin (Claire of Lost fame) shows up in a few scenes as Brendan's ex-girlfriend.

The film is played perfectly straight, no winks involved, and it pays off as anything else could easily turn into rubbish, and a lot of the praise must be put in the hands of Rian Johnson for holding it all together and pulling the strings so magnificently. Even more impressive is that Brick was Johnson's feature film debut. He may be more well known in the mainstream for his recent film, The Brothers Bloom.

The film conjures up many emotions for me, of high school and what I'd rather high school have been, and speaks to me like something I would have created myself-- had I enough talent and drive to do so. It's fitting that Rian Johnson was able to shoot the picture at his old high school. Johnson has been quoted as saying that he recommends everyone go back and shoot a film at their old school, and the idea of this is quite interesting. I'm not sure what it actually lends to the audience in terms of viewing experience, but I'm sure it only added to Johnson's fire and determination during the lensing process, and that likely lends itself to a much more interesting film overall.

I can't end this write up without mentioning the music provided by Nathan Johnson. The musical score is sweet sorrow and quite simple, but so haunting and perfect that it deserves a spot on your iPod to listen to when the mood strikes.

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