by Ryland Walker Knight
Rian Johnson's Brick, a debut film, is rather unabashed, and fearless, but instead of inspired it mostly plays silly, which is a shame. Because it's also rather pretty, and clever. Yet the smarts are all surface, and not that smart. Johnson has a good eye and knows how to point his camera at people-windows-hallways but the filmmaking choices, on the whole, seem made more for posture than for presence. How many fish-eye jump-cuts do you need? And, did they actually fuck or did they just make out? Because, see, the film noir femme fatale really has to fuck the patsy for the seduction to matter. Not that Joseph Gordon Levitt's Brendan is an altogether patsy. (This is a genre rewrite, see, and it doesn't have to play by the rules.) Not that Levitt's performance is bad (hell, nobody's is technically "bad"), in fact, as per usual, he is excellent. But from the get-go the caveat of the film kind of self-sabotages the project. It was unavoidable. As unavoidable as the film's already-gaining-steam cult status: there's plenty to like, and it's plenty entertaining, but unlike Donny Darko, Brick can't cut the bullshit, or cut deep to the core, because of its pre-fab low-budget style. That is, it's stylized to death. Or, for all the success of Johnson's dialogue (he nails that aspect of the Chandler mold, and the idea of a detective deciphering words' motives as much as other characters' is fresh, and cool), the no budget for nighttime so instead we'll shoot at dawn strategy doesn't quite work. I didn't feel dread, just stagnation; which should work for a high school noir in theory but in practice really does not. Which is surely part of the point, but, sue me if you want, it's hollow. No amount of Nora Zehetner's baby-doll eyes or Meagan Goode's big lips can trick me, thank Him, 'cuz they're right deadly, if you aren't paying attention. (For an even better Levitt performance, and a whole lot more heart, I'd recommend the treasure that is Mysterious Skin any day of the week. I only hope he makes more movies like that instead of more like this and The Lookout.)
02005: 110 minutes: written and directed by Rian Johnson.