Columnist reviews 2005’s high-school noir Brick.
By Sammy Bonasso, ’20
Think of a film that’s required you to suspend your disbelief: to look past its nonsensical or impossible aspects so you can appreciate the narrative as a whole. Most people jump to Star Wars, or maybe Harry Potter. It’s unlikely you’d pick something firmly grounded in reality, a film with a story that very well could happen.
But really, you could pick nearly any non-documentary movie, because every movie has some element of fiction. Even with historical works, such as Munich or First Man, we may know that the events shown actually occurred, but we’ll never know how faithful the films’ scripts are to what was said in every moment in reality.
When tasked with finding a film that requires much in terms of suspension of disbelief, few would turn to 2005’s high-school noir film Brick—and not just because almost nobody’s seen it. But as a twelfth grader, I’d think of Brick first.
Brick begins with Californian high schooler Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finding the corpse of his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin). From there, Brendan analyzes the clues present in Emilie’s last phone call to him; this leads him to interactions with the human encyclopedia “Brain” (Matt O’Leary), femme fatale Laura (Nora Zehetner), and 20-something drug lord “the Pin” (Lukas Haas). Director Rian Johnson, now infamous for The Last Jedi, made Brick on a shoestring budget and released it in 2005. The film received an immediate DVD release and limited theater run, but the production quality never screams “straight to video.”
The film deftly transitions from extreme tension to explosions of violence, for one. The editing in a certain tunnel scene will forever be one of the most shocking cinematic moments for me. Similarly unforgettable scenes appear throughout the movie, all bolstered by expert sound design and a bluesy soundtrack.
Brick’s dialogue especially stands out, as it convincingly emulates forties noirs (as such, I’d recommend watching with subtitles). The impressive acting, particularly Gordon-Levitt’s performance, also resembles old detective films.
But take this in the context of the setting. Brendan trades favors with school administrators like they’re crooked cops; engages in a thrilling knife chase on campus in the middle of a school day; and allows himself to be blindfolded and taken to a local drug den, which turns out to be somebody’s mom’s basement.
It could just be the high-school experience in California. But more likely than that, Brick expects its audience to suspend disbelief. For those unable, the film is enjoyable but a bit much at times. But for those who can, the film is a stunningly novel homage to the black-and-white mysteries of old.
And watching Brick as a high schooler further elevates the experience. It’s like when Sebastian shows Mia through song the future they could’ve had together at the end of La La Land. We’ve all imagined being the protagonists of our own larger- than-life high-school dramas, unfolding with love interests, moral ambiguity, and ample brooding. Brick is that romantic fantasy set to film, and somewhere, in some distant reality, any of us could’ve been Brendan. Gee, I should be writing for The CW.
Not only is this suspension of disbelief necessary for the narrative’s sake, it’s what elevates the movie from great to a bittersweet favorite of mine. Brick is a hard-boiled masterpiece, but it’s also a film with a surprising amount of nostalgia.
If you’re an underclassman, Brick will make you fantasize about what the rest of high school has to offer. If you’re an upperclassman, you’ll enjoy how endearingly unrealistic the movie is. Either way, watch it as soon as possible. I’ll give you my copy if you ask in noirspeak.