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150 Films #21: Brick (2006)

Part of the point of this project is to ask the question, “How has time changed my opinion of these films?” After 20 films, I’m surprised to find only two have been Sells. In point of fact, just my memory of re-watching these movies for this project made me think at least five were on the Sell list, so that’s pretty weird.

However, Brick is the first movie I’ve looked at again and literally asked the question, “Why did I like this in the first place?” With my other two Sells—The Apartment and Being John Malkovich—I know exactly why I loved them, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of why I no longer do. Brick, on the other hand…

“Terrible” is too strong a word, but almost from the beginning, I felt two things very strongly: the subject matter is too dark, but most of the characters are too “indie quirky”—extremely annoying. I love the premise of “high school film noir,” which is perhaps the first piece of evidence to explain why I loved this movie. Outsized emotions was a common feature of Golden Age films, so even the grit and violence of classic film noir don’t diminish its heightened drama. In the modern world, where else would one find such high emotion than high school? When I say the subject matter is “too dark,” I mean this movie doesn’t deal in a typical teenage story. It centers around a murdered girl and a brick of heroin. Yes, high school kids use and sell heroin. Yes, high school kids murder each other. But that’s not a conventional teenager’s story, so the mash-up itself is not quite convincing.

Neither is the language. It doesn’t bother me that these characters speak in machine-gun rhythms; it’s that writer/director Rian Johnson’s bizarre, made-up patois doesn’t sound like a film noir character any more than it sounds like teenagers. The prose is too purple and cutesy, and when combined with the goofy characters (at times intentionally comical, but mostly just annoying), it’s just… None of it works for me.

Sure, the passing of time changes things. My visceral reaction to The Apartment came from its romanticizing “White Knight Syndrome”; there’s some of that here, too, in that Brick‘s plot focuses on the efforts of a young man to rescue a fucked-up girl he’s in love with (but who doesn’t love him back). I wonder, though, if the main issue here is how fresh a film like this felt in 2006. Three years before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the 2009 book that both popularized and ruined mash-ups, this felt new and vibrant. Unlike the previous year’s Sin City, Brick was not so slavish about aping the look and tone; instead, he used the style—dense plotting and rapid dialogue—to tell a crime story about kids. It was also not as tongue-in-cheek or overtly comedic as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, another noir homage; nor as dour as A History of Violence, nor as classical as Match Point.

At the time, it felt smart, vibrant, and new. Now? To me, at least, it feels like a calling card that looks pretty good visually and brims with ideas and emotion—but it tries way, way too hard without quite succeeding.

Keep or Sell? Sell

Up Next: Bridesmaids (2011)

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