Movies/Entertainment,  Off the Shelf

Off the Shelf…'Brick'

As a film fan I don’t think I have done enough research outside my comfort zone of movies to check out independent films, foreign films or films styles to really expand my repetior.  That said, one film style or genre I am trying to get into are detective/noir films.  Having seen films such classics as Chinatown, The Third Man, and recent noir films such as L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia, I’d say I’m getting there.  Though I am missing a big chunk of the old 40’s and 50’s detective stories, I’d like to think I’m ever so slightly starting to appreciate noir detective film.  That said, one film that I saw, immediately ran out and bought then actually for got about was Brick.  I don’t think I’ve seen a better and fresher take on the genre that Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s amazingly acted “who dun it?”

Levitt plays Brendan, a high school kid, who is investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Emily after she mysteriously calls him, hangs up in a panic and is later found dead. Pretty much all on his own, he tries to track down anything he can based on the 4 things Emily told him before she hung up.  Attempting to find her leads him down paths to unsavory characters and exposes him to the underground world of narcotics dealing that was happening right under his nose.  Finding himself more than waits deep, Brendan is content to go deeper to find Em’s killer.  Using all his wits and trusting no one, Brendan sifts through lies, deception and more to find the answers.

Brick is one hell of a detective story.  Set in a high school, it does an astounding job of using the class structures to replicate the seedy levels of crime/drugs you get in most detective stories from the ones at the top all the way to the poor saps at the bottom.  Levitt is amazing and the whole movie is replete withh razor-sharp dialogue and quicker wit that I had in High School…hell, I don’t have that quick of a wit now, but I digress.  The acting is dead pan serious, and entirely unflinching.  The real life situations and consequences are almost downplayed being that they are High School kids, but you still feel the danger in most scenarios.

Brandon has but one true friend/confidant in “Brain”, a sort of egghead with his ear to the ground.  Brain helps out, more behind the scenes, and provides the right amount of resources to aid in the investigation.  Levitt just soars above everyone else’s performance in this film and even proves to be more of a grown-up actor than the post-Shaft Richard Roundtree playing the Assistant Vice Principal.  Probably the best line of the movie was given by Levitt to Roundtree where, recalling some of their past collaborative efforts, he states, “I gave you Jerr to see him eaten, not to see you fed“.  Nice!

One funny thing I noticed was that everyone’s wardrobe played to each characters’ personalities.  Further, everyone’s wardrobe is consistent throughout the film and watching this is almost like you’re reading a comic (where costumes don’t change) and on-screen, each character is easily identifiable.  Also, a lot of low angle shots were used to make all the characters seem grander in scale than the high school kids they are portraying.  It worked in may instances and the atmosphere of the film felt far more sophisticated than it should have been in regards to the subject matter.  Looking back, I think this film did a better job of channeling Chinatown than Assassination of a High School President, but they are both very worthy imitators.

Now for as great as the casting and the writing was, there was one overwhelming factor that made this movie work so well.  Setting this whole thing in amongst the high school set was just genius and that incredible idea worked so much better as you could kind of relate to the situations, the social networks and the scale of the film rather than following the story of a N.Y.C or L.A. detective.  It was fun at times and the writing kept getting better and better revealing more than what was on the surface.  Movies like this are fascinating because no one is truly innocent, almost no one can be trusted and every character is just as shady as the next.  Without giving this movie more praise, this movie speaks for itself and doesn’t need anyone to defend it.  I believe it is a modern masterpiece of cinema.  Layered ever so slightly, paced perfectly, never giving anything away too soon, and topped off by just stellar acting from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brick is a simply brilliant and slick detective flick.

G-S-T Ruling – 5/5

G-S-T Seal of Approval: GRANTED…This film is a Great Cinematic Treasure.


  • madhatter21

    Yes! Yes! Yes!!! This is one of those smaller movies that I think is absolutely brilliant, and more people should see. Good on ya for calling attention to it.

    I myself didn’t get around to seeing it until a good friend reccomended it as one of the best smaller/lesser known films they’d ever seen.

    For me, I think the best line of the film has to be “Ask any dope rat where their junk sprang and they’ll say they scraped it from that, who scored it from this, who bought it off so, and after four or five connections the list always ends with The Pin. But I bet you, if you got every rat in town together and said “Show your hands” if any of them’ve actually seen The Pin, you’d get a crowd of full pockets.”

    Great review!

    • Marc

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, this movie should make more frequent trips off my shelf to my DVD player. I am just so impressed with the simplicity and brilliance of the story. Also I love the fact that the Pin still lives with his mom!!

      But how about this quote, “Come on at me, if you want, Hash-head. I’ve got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up against the lot of you.”

  • Aiden R

    This movie’s the bomb, reviewed it ages ago but it really stuck with me when I saw it. JGL is the effin man, really smart and original script. Awesome ending song, too. Hell yeah to The Velvet Underground.

    • Marc

      JGL, nice short-hand there Aiden. Think I’ll use that in the future:) He’s always great…even in G.I. JOE where it wasn’t difficult to be the best actor in that bunch. Still it showed that just because he took a small part, he still give it his all.

  • mcarteratthemovies

    It was Ebert, I believe, who pointed out that Gordon-Levitt was one of the few truly talented actors — Sienna Miller being the other — in “G.I. Joe” who played a character whose real face was not visible. I can’t chalk this up to coincidence.

    That said, Marc, you hit on one of my favorite movies! “Brick” is a classic indie, a fantastic whodunnit with some primo acting by Gordon-Levitt. Though I’d say his work in “Manic” and “Mysterious Skin” was more daring and all-around better, he did a damn fine job in “Brick.” I’d say this guy’s one of the best young actors working today.