Sunday, August 06, 2006


Being a classically trained actor I've participated in many high concept Shakespearean works.

Off the top of my head I remember being involved in a production of 12th Night where the world of the play was set in Alice in Wonderland. I also did a production of the Scottish Tragedy, that was set in an apocalyptic military future.

I even remember watching a musical version of Much ado about Nothing, where they inserted musical numbers using Motown classics.

Yeah, seriously.

When it comes to Shakespeare.....everybody wants to be original.

When watching these productions I always try to ask myself how do these high concepts enhance the story, and themes of the play? And how does putting these concepts into the production illuminate the author's original intent?

Most of the time it doesn't do anything to the play.

Usually it just ends up looking cool, and audiences walk away thinking to themselves....."that was original."

Which is not a good thing.

When considering a movie like Brick. I ended up asking myself similar questions when watching the film.

Why is the film noir genre, being put in this world of high school?

How does this enhance the themes of the story?

What, if anything are the story tellers trying to say about the genre by putting it in this world?

Sadly, the answer does nothing.

When it comes to Brick, the movie is unfortunately all style......And no substance.

Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young high school outsider, who is trying to figure out why his ex-girlfriend was killed, and who was involved. The usual suspects include the big boss-the Pin (Lukas Haas), the thug-Tugger (Noah Fleiss), the dame-Laura (Nora Zhetner), and the loose cannon-Dode, (Noah Segan).

It's obvious writer/director Rian Johnson is talented.

He has a good ear for dialogue, and he knows how to structure a story well.

He also has an interesting eye as a director, and really has a talent for clever transitions.

As a showcase for his skills Brick is a success.

But in terms of a well told story, and overall film, ultimately the movie really doesn't contribute anything, not to mention does nothing for the genre.

By putting it in the high school world, the whole exercise feels just shallow.

Like kids messing around.

The stakes are never high enough, to really take anything seriously.

The dialogue, situations and circumstances just don't fit, and doesn't ring true. Not to mention that technically the actors simply don't have the life experience, and world weariness to truly inhabit the film noir stereotypes.

What were left with is a parody with no comedy.

The movie is not a complete failure however. I find it admirable that the actors, and crew felt so strongly about the project. They approach the material with a sincerity, and seriousness that is commendable.

In terms of a film noir, the story is, at times, interesting stuff.

But by putting it in the high school world however, we are constantly reminded that we are watching a stylistic film. Situations seem familiar. But the story tellers are trying to awkwardly fit it into this absurd world. What's worse is that when we want them to explain how the genre fits in the world. The film makers gloss over the particulars hoping we won't notice. For example, there seems to be no parental figures in the film for the main characters. The one time there is a parent, it's done as a comic bit.

Authority figures are few, and far between.

The one scene where there is an authority figure, in this case an assistant vice principal, (obviously subbing for an assistant D.A.), the whole situation and scene feels fabricated and insincere. Like it was put in just for the sake of having an noirish assistant D.A. type scene with the protagonist.

After awhile the whole movie feels that way, scenes are presented just to accommodate the needs of the genre, instead of the needs of the actual story.

After awhile the thing just starts to get really annoying.

Like a bad production of Lord of the Flies.

A bunch of brats running around acting like they are adults, who think they've earned the right to behave the way they do.

I kept hoping that an authority figure would show up, and start slapping these little brats around.

That a real drug lord would show up and start beating the shit out of these punk kids who are playing like they are hardened criminals.

I'd like to see Tug try to kick the shit out of a Sam Jackson type. Or the Pin trying to boss around a Ving Rhames type.

It's just absurd.

Why should anyone take these kids seriously?

I know that the film makers tried not to make this a Bugsy Malone type affair. But that's exactly what they've created.

Who knows maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe the point is that we aren't suppossed to take these kids seriously. That the movie is meant to illustrate the folly and recklessness of youth.

But I honestly don't get that impression.

I really believe that we're suppossed to take these characters seriously, that we are suppossed to respect these characters as big players in the world. That the world is growing fast, and it's a youth oriented, and controlled society.

Which is a interesting and noble point.

But the truth is the movie's world doesn't honor or embrace the fact that these teenagers are ultimately just youths, who must answer.... eventually..... at some point to older authority types.

The story tellers eliminate the adults entirely. The teenagers ARE the adults in this world.

Which ultimately doesn't ring true on any level.

Who knows it could be that it's just a generational thing.

Maybe the movie isn't supposed to speak to me. Maybe I'm too old for this movie.

Wow, let me just say that reeeeaaaalllllly sounds strange to me.

However, I recognize I am older, and if that's the case,the movie is really just a marketing exercise to please, and entertain teenagers.

In any case, I can't say I enjoyed myself watching this film. Truthfully, I just kept getting annoyed by the whole exercise.

But like I said, it's not a total waste of time.

I guess if one is looking for something stylish, yet not very substantial. I guess this is the movie to watch.

But truthfully, there are plenty of other film noirs that will entertain one, no matter what the age. Like the Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Chinatown. If one is looking for a modern noir check out Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang or The Big Lebowski.

I'd definitely recommend catching one of those great films, before throwing this mediocre movie on.


Lons said...

Yeah, pretty much...

Something like "Big Lebowski" really blows this thing out of the water. The Coens take all the same detective noir ideas and genuinely refabricate them into something entirely new. And filled with hilarious jokes and brilliant performances.

"Brick" gets all the allusions right. But it's just an inside joke. It never rises to the point of being a good film in its own right.

Lioness and Vixen said...

I am a huge fan of film noir. I think in a lot of ways, your critique rings true.

Maybe it is a generation gap issue (though I doubt it). It probably just comes down to taste. I think Brick is probably one of my favorite movies.

I really appreciated the style and the story. I realize the credibility issues and the lack of authority...but in most movies, the simplest answer is: "Why not just go to the police?"

Anyway, I thought your review was insightful; I just disagree.

I've been watching a lot of classic film noir lately. Most of them I or two didn't really do much for me...but I still appreciated them for what they were.

I suppose it's all about experimentation and innovating the genre...

Long story short, I liked "Brick" a lot. :)