Rian Johnson’s Brick revitalizes the neo-noir genre

Nathan Lawrence

Brick” is like “The Maltese Falcon” set in the school from a John Hughes movie. Yes, somebody actually made that, and here’s the shocking part: It’s almost a perfect film.

Neo-noir is nothing particularly new to American cinema-the genre has been present since the ’60s-yet in the last 20 years, a major shift has occurred: A simple rehash of the typical noir-esque plotlines and character roles is no longer satisfying to a moviegoing audience.

In order to keep people interested, there needs to be a dramatic and sensational “hook,” something that brings people in the door and keeps them watching to see how it changes the typical formula. For “Brick,” this hook is its setting, but even without the hook, it would still be amazing.

In the film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (of “Third Rock from the Sun” and “10 Things I Hate About You”) stars as Brendan, whose ex-girlfriend has gotten involved in a local drug ring. When she calls him on a payphone begging for help out of a tight spot, he goes on a complex and dangerous journey through the underbelly of the high school to try and understand what happened to her.

Gordon-Levitt’s performance is outstanding, not just among his repertoire, but among all performances I have seen in cinema. Like the greatest film actors, Gordon-Levitt’s emotions in a given seen can be observed not only in the way he moves his body or face, but in his eyes. Every feeling seems completely authentic and organic. There isn’t one second that Gordon-Levitt stops being Brandon.

“Brick” was written and directed by up-and-coming auteur Rian Johnson, whose film “Looper” just hit theaters about three weeks ago. Both the writing and the direction are top notch.

Words are combined in unique and original ways to create a completely different style of dialogue from anything I’ve ever heard before. Lines are quick and snappy like a Mamet play, but they seem to contain all the pondered philosophical essence of Charlie Kaufman or Michel Gondry.

Words seem to be placed not just with a mind for meaning, but a mind for how they sound together. Is it unrealistic? Absolutely, but it sure is fun.

Johnson’s directing seems equally impressive. Though this was his first outing as a director, he demonstrated skills worthy of a virtuoso, carefully choosing shots that were unique and constantly preserving one of the most unique visions I have ever seen on film.

Johnson isn’t afraid of making choices which are unconventional or abnormal, as long as they are fitting with his vision. Each new viewing of this film shows me some extra meaning that was embedded in the shot that made it different.

Brick was shot for about $500,000-rather remarkable, given how good the film looks. At no moment in the movie did it ever occur to me that they may have done anything in particular to cut corners or hide the flaws that a small budget might create.

 Even the score, an area where cheaply-made independent films typically have difficulty, is remarkably professional sounding, thanks to the hard work of the director’s cousin, Nathan Johnson.

“Brick” is an incredible film from one of the most unique voices currently working in American cinema and should not be missed.


“Brick” is streaming on Netflix indefinitely.