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July 31, 2007

Brick is the feature-length brainchild of Sundance award winner and ‘outrageously talented newcomer’ du jour Rian Johnson. It arrives with a healthy and decidedly chipper rep following unanimous good crits, and it’s pretty much fully deserved.

The summaries you’ll see will try and scrabble around for a handle on this, and for some reason they want to make you think of David Lynch, and Twin Peaks in particular, and that’s way off the mark. This is hard-boiled noirish territory, Chandler, Hammet, those guys, and has nothing whatsoever to do with Agent Copper, damn fine coffee or dozy old biddies wanting to show you their pet log. No, the thing that has thrown and unsettled the pigeon-holers here – and it takes a good half hour to get into it – is that while the verbal style reflects and embraces guys in big hats and sharp suits spitting tough words at smart dames and shady tough nuts, it’s all executed in the environment of a Southern California High School. Not your John Hughes Pretty in Pink High School, but more like Heathers or Election; all bleak, concrete landscapes, scrubland and brooding cloud cover. So, agreed, it’s an odd and disconcerting mix, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but that doesn’t mean it has dwarves talking backwards and Sherilyn Fenn acting proper coy.

Maybe it’s just trying to soundbite it that creates the problems, there’s a lot in here, after all.

[deep breath]

Brendan Frye, stepping immediately into the loner’s shoes vacated by Philip Marlowe, is a strikingly intelligent lad, standing outside of the petty and pointless concerns of his clique-oriented peers. It’s only when his ex-girlfriend ends up missing, then reappears, then winds up dead in a ditch that he decides he needs to get his hands dirty and engage with the people he so clearly despises. Brendan is consumed with finding and then avenging his lost love. This immediately causes problems and some bone-crunching beatings, but he’s not a boy to be easily dissuaded and he perseveres boldly, on the way enlisting the only person he really trusts and acknowledges, borderline autistic ear-to-the-ground similarly-alone nerd The Brain. Brendan’s modus operandi is determinedly beligerent and stubborn because he has to crack into the infuriatingly closed orbits of the terminally self-centred; rich-girl wannabe sophisticate Laura, frighteningly solid meathead Tug, space-cadet druggie Dode, self-absorbed theatrical beauty Kara and – and this is where it gets genuinely imposing and threatening – The Pin, a drug lord of withering intensity played to sinister effect by Lukas Haas, the wee little kid you’ll remember from Witness, who’s all grown up now.

Painfully (and I mean painfully) forcing his way into The Pin’s inner circle and kicking off a just-waiting-to-happen turf war, Brendan gradually uncovers the truth about the connections between his dead ex and the dreadful cycle of crime and retribution that lies beneath the surface of a spent and tired community. It’s a stylish and at times bewildering ride, pulling in influences from all over the place and drifting through a sparse, spent, bankrupt lingua franca that only really makes sense the deeper in you fall and the longer you spend with these guys:


Ask any dope rat where their junk sprang and they’ll say they scraped it from that, who scored it from this, who bought it off so, and after four or five connections the list always ends with the Pin. But I bet you got every rat in town together and said ‘show your hands’ if any of them’ve actually seen the Pin, you’d get a crowd of full pockets.

There are no prisoners here, just blasts of slang and boots and fists and one seriously foxy girl who, as they say, is no better than she ought to be. A stylistic jaunt to a place you wouldn’t want to visit for more than a couple of hours, Brick just about hangs together and proves an unusual and distracting journey, but don’t swot up on Blue Velvet or Lost Highway before you see it, try Farewell, My Lovely instead. It’s all there, just…different.

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