Collected Works: Film
directed by Rian Johnson
A self-styled sleuth sits at a kitchen table, crunching through some cornflakes, talking business with a drug lord. The mobster’s mother, a little old lady in a pastel dress, bustles about fixing up an apple juice. He takes a break from nibbling an oatmeal cookie to kiss her on the cheek for her troubles, an affectionate gesture at odds with his hard-headed demeanour. She shuffles out and the hospitality ends. The visitor is left with a choice: he must offer some information, or have it beaten out of him.
Brick follows Brendan, a surly loner-cum-investigator who, after receiving a cryptic phone call, finds his ex-girlfriend’s body in a ditch. He interrogates leads and searches for clues, as we would expect, but the case centres on his Southern Californian high school. Many of the scenes take place in corridors and on sports fields. The suspects are students who don’t seem to do a lot of studying. Instead, they play dress-up, taking on the role of brooding detective, femme fatale, or henchman.
The film’s nods to hardboiled genre precedents are both knowing and numerous. Brendan’s only ally is a seemingly omniscient classmate called The Brain, an homage to the noir informer. While his forerunners dwelt in dingy taverns, hunched over the bar, he slumps by the lockers with his rucksack. The dialogue that Brendan and The Brain share is dense, littered with slang, and delivered at bullet-speed: ‘They’d flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes and probably find some yegg to pin.’
The conspicuous setting, young cast, and raw energy give the film the feel of a high-budget high-school production, but there is no playing to the camera here. The figures that inhabit this stylised, impermeable world do so with a swagger and a straight face. Just as the titular block of heroin lures in the town’s adolescent gangsters, Brick drags us towards its dark, dense epicentre. Those seeking instant gratification will do so in vain; it’s our nerves that take a hit.
Words by John Wadsworth
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Question of the day
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, directed by George Lucas. As art critic Camille Paglia suggests in her book Glittering Images: 'Episode III epitomises the modern digital art movement, more so than any other piece from the last 30 years.' (→)
– Cesare Attuoni, Silent Frame reader (via Facebook →)
Grizzly Man, directed by Werner Herzog. An unsettling yet funny documentary that covers the almost unbelievable story of a man who spent years living with bears. (→)
– Lewis Coenen-Rowe, Silent Frame Sub-Editor (via Twitter →)