Cinemarathon Review: Brick
I hope you’ve had a chance to catch up with the Cinemarathon. We are going through Rian Johnson’s filmography leading up to the release of his newest project: Knives Out. See more info about the marathon and watchlist details in this post.
The first entry into Johnson’s impressive body of work is his feature film Brick. Read the review below and share your thoughts on the film in the comments, on Twitter with the hashtag #cinemarathon, or on the Facebook page!
Brick: A Shakespearean Neo Noir for the Modern Age
Brick opens in the middle of the story. One of the many unconventional creative decisions from a freshman feature debut, Johnson shows he is a filmmaker with promise. With quick dialogue that has a code all its own and a brooding style that follows the death of a high school teen with neo-noir flair, this film is an exciting first entry into Rian Johnson’s body of work.
The movie follows Brendan, (played by a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a high school loner who gives off a self-righteous air - the classic stereotype of an indifferent teenager who believes he’s above it all, but we quickly learn that Brendan can’t be boxed into a “type.” He’s a well-rounded character that Johnson took great effort to develop. We learn there’s one thing that challenges his indifference: his ex-girlfriend who he still loves, Emily.
When Brendan stares at Emily’s dead body in the opening scene - a gaze mixed with despair and anger - we don’t know Brendan yet and we don’t know who the dead girl is, but Gordon-Levitt tells us a lot through his disposition. He’s going to do something about it. And so we begin our journey into the seedy underbelly of a crime ring made up of high schoolers - an intriguing setting and cast of characters for the story to play out. Johnson builds the world of king pins, criminal masterminds, and sleuths and ties it all together with quippy prose that is so deliciously melodramatic, it’s almost shakespearean.
As Brendan moves from one social circle at his high school to the next, he uncovers clues about Emily’s death along the way. The cast of characters in the story all carry some measure of guilt in the tragic tale of Emily’s death. Each characters’ sincerity gives them license to be audacious and Johnson’s writing and directing mirrors their authenticity - creating a completely believable world that pulls us in immediately.
In the end, Brendan gets his revenge, but his cleverness and subtlety all build up to an unexpected twist. Sprinkled throughout the film are real moments of humor and the setting is unapologetically high school, but with very real stakes. It’s the subversion of expectations and beautiful style that makes this movie one of the best feature film debuts of the past couple of decades. Johnson strikes a tone that lets us know, this might just be high school, but this is everything.