Final Grade: A+
I have long been a closet fan of small, off the cuff Indie flicks that challenge the conventional mainstream of film. No, I am not talking about Indies that sold big like Brokeback Mountain (arguably a great film, but by no means an Indie.) In fact, I am disturbed by a recent trend in the fabric of Hollywood’s elite. It is a trend such that any director or producer can take $20 million of their own money to privately finance a film, and then call it an Indie and take it to Sundance. These films do not fall in line with what I believe to be the essence of Independent film making. A true Indie is a low-budget film made by filmmaker whose talent overshadows their wallet. Films like Clerks, Robert Rodreiguez’ El Mariachi or even Swingers are great examples of films who rose far above their lowly budgets to make an impact on the world of cinema.
Cut from this same fabric and dashed with a classic dose of film noir is Brick, the first feature offering from director Rian Johnson. Brick follows the story of Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a California high school student whose piercing intelligence has set him apart from his peers. But unlike your average high school outcast, Brendan understands the world of the social elite and chooses to stay clear; to remain on the outside. But when Brendan’s ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) makes a frantic call to him for help and then disapears, it sends him deep into the world from which he has for so long chosen to distance himself. With the help of his trusted friend Brain (Matt O’Leary) Brendan sets off to try to help Emily, and possibly shake things up in the process.
The synopsis of this film seems simple, but it far from your average teen love story. You begin watching and are instantly intrigued by the dialogue of the film, which is sensational but at first out of place. In the beginning of the film it is hard to believe that you are watching high school kids speak and interact in such a manner, but there are very expertly placed moments that remind of the age and environment of the characters. Rian Johnson’s script is to say the least, masterful in the way that the story draws us in as if this were a great adult crime drama but constantly gives little reminders that these kids are in high school.
And my praise doesn’t end with just the story. There is so much to be said about the acting that brings these characters to life. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is absolutely stunning. You may remember him as the goofy son from the television show 3rd Rock from the Sun, but you may also not recognize him as he has grown significantly in his ability to capture an audience and illuminate a film. You may find yourself awe struck (I know I did!) in the way that he personifies a very cynical, unwaivering lead that noir fans can truly appreciate.
But what would be an interesting, well acted story without some fantastic visual style? I’m not sure, as Brick doesn’t answer that question. It does, however, show the talented range of Rian Johnson as a filmmaker. There are various moments within the film where Johnson appears to be “experimenting” with different visual styles, but they all seem to work. The sound is equally as appropriate; when Brick needs to hit you with a startling of visual or audible brilliance, it hits you hard.
But then again, most moviegoers these days have no idea what film noir is all about. You may not even care. What you should know, though, is that Brick is a film unlike any other you will see this year. From the intriguing story to the sensational dialogue and even to the amazing way in which is filmed, Brick has all the makings of a film that just about any true fan of cinema can appreciate. It is entertaining, startling and thought provoking all the same time. I would recommend this film to anyone who truly enjoy great filmmaking again, or to anyone who is wondering what great filmmaking looks like. Brick is hands down the best film I have seen this year.