Tuesday, April 04, 2006

She's A Brick And I'm Drowning Slowly

Rian Johnson's Brick is, for lack of a better turn-of-phrase, the cat's pajamas.

And turn-of-phrase is Brick's bread n' butter. This is a film in love with language - with the power and pleasure and impenetrability of it. It's also a film that could have very easily been a stunt. A joke. A labored, unweildy metaphor-as-movie.

It's a testament to both Johnson's script, and his talented cast (including a jaw-droppingly good Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whom I last saw doing his best ALF impression on Third Rock From The Sun) that Brick works at all. What's more amazing is that it works damn well.

Here's the plot, in a nutshell: Brendan Frye has a mission: His ex-girlfriend's gone missing, and he's determined to find her. Delving into the cliques and alliances that make up his High school, Frye discovers his ex's fate, and far more.

And here's the "stunt": Brick is honest-to-god film noir. Every hoary character archetype from every Raymond Chandler novel and B&W detective movie is handily, and brilliantly, represented here. The mob King Pin. The Moll. The Dame-what-got-whacked. The Informant. The Turn-Coat. And the shock - the true pleasure of Brick - is that the fit is seamless. In the same way that Joss Whedon's Buffy mined gold from the concept of High School as literal-hell, Johnson's Brick unites noir and lunch-rooms with similar aplomb. It just works. And the dialogue...

God, the dialogue in this thing.

Whether it's Frye's student telling The Pin (an excellent Lukas Haas) that he's "just going to stand here and bleed at you," or threatening an adversary with "showing your ace," the dialogue in Brick simmers and slithers like a venomous snake in pre-strike mode. It's astonishing. It's hilarious. It's heart-breaking. And it's beautifully, powerfully original.

You forget, as you get older, how tough High school actually was. How the emotions in yourself and everyone around you were like constantly blooming flowers of possible destruction. How every word or gesture from a girl could keep you up at night - for better or worse. But Brick brings that primal, uncomfortable rawness back in a way that's a rush. By playing the film completely straight - by never "winking" at the audience over the film's high-concept, Johnson and his cast create a dream-memory of how High school is remembered - a shifting, shady, sometimes agonizingly-lonely set of allegiances that twist and never, ever, really settle.

Brick is the best movie I've seen in 2006, and it's a film I'll own when it's released on DVD. It joins a small (but growing) list of "strange little indies" that I'll subsequently pimp to friends and family with real passion. It'd also make a superb television show. HBO? Here's your next program, delivered gift-wrapped and sealed with a poisonous kiss.

If you're a fan of film, you owe it to yourself to seek out Brick. It won't change the world, and it won't change your life. But it will knock your socks off, pal. Right. Clean. Off.

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