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Directed by Rian Johnson.
Written by Rian Johnson.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss and Lukas Haas.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  4/6/06


My buddy Yac and I caught another freebie downtown yesterday, and I had to sleep on this one before I could ultimately write up the review because I was on the fence about how to rate it.  Ultimately, the new thriller "Brick" is worth seeing on the big screen...but believe you me, you are either going to like it or you won't, as evidenced by the crowd reaction we had in our audience on Wednesday night.

"Brick", written and directed by Rian Johnson, centers around a high school kid named Brandon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who looks familiar because he's been a bit player in about a dozen flicks) who starts the action by discovering his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) face-down in an aqueduct near school.  We move backwards two days to figure out how this happened...and, after we get to the present day, Brandon goes gumshoe and employs the help of his best friend Brain (Matt O'Leary) to run his own investigation on how Emily ended up dead.  Along the way, we meet the dame, Laura (Nora Zehetner), the muscle, Tugger (Noah Fleiss), the jilted lover, Dode (Noah Segan) and our heavy, The Pin (Lukas Haas).

The trick with "Brick" isn't the story (which feels so familiar that Yac and I wondered which films Johnson DIDN'T rip off)'s the staging and the dialogue.  First, the staging--the film is clearly meant to be 1940s/50s-style film noir, in a modern-day setting.  So, the world as we see it is desolation, late-afternoon and overnight settings that even make 12:30 PM look like sunset.  For a high school, the setting is incredibly barren, as any world in noir-ish films should be (at times, you're not even sure the kids take classes, there is so little schoolwork happening on campus).  It's a murder mystery, but you never see any cops (you do hear some distant sirens occasionally) and justice is served cold on the streets of the California setting where the action is based.  You even get little touches like Brandon constantly walking around like Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon", with his hands jammed in his pockets, or overwhelming physically-superior foes with his wits and a wicked roundhouse.  Yac said it best--"Brick" is SO over-the-top in its staging that it rides the line between thriller and comedy throughout the film's running time.

Then, there's the dialogue, and this is the hardest part about "Brick" because it's the part that is most likely to either make you love this film or want to walk out, as literally 12 people did (I counted) during our movie.  The film's dialogue is almost comically old-school, from the use of terms like "dame" or "mark" or any word for cop that is about 50 years past its prime.  As spouted by 16-to-18-year-old characters, "Brick" has an odd mix of tough-sounding lines and innocent-looking kids, a mix that will make some of you ask aloud, "What the fuck is going on here?"  It's also rapid-fire; the script for this film MUST have been long given the length of this nearly-two-hour film (usually, it's a page a minute for a Hollywood screenplay; I'm guessing "Brick" is 150 pages, that's how much talking our boy Brandon does in this movie).  It's corny, it's hammy, it's ridiculous...but for Yac and I, it was working because it was so rich yet so funny.

So, you take these two elements--the language and the 1950 redux setting--and add in darker elements of some serious PG-13 violence and a couple of corpses floating around, and you've got yourself quite a film.  The film is slightly twisty but nothing that attempts to confuse you; "Brick" is mostly a ride, something to sit back and soak up, with great performances by Gordon-Levitt, Haas, hottie Meagan Good and Richard Roundtree in a WTF cameo.  It's not perfect and the ending was just okay for me; the overall product could have been shorter and I kept asking myself when Brandon was going to get fucked up for the last time, his ridiculous pain threshold becoming comedy by the end of the movie.  But, "Brick" is something you should check out; it will certainly be great fodder for conversation at the local pub afterwards.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09