First, a bit of housekeeping:
Hey everyone. I know, it’s been a bit. I’m working on my thesis and a class on the American Revolution right now, so it’s going to be a little bit between essays, and they won’t be particularly long. I know that I promised a lot with all those essays in a row, but… hey, wait a minute, I’m doing this for free, and I’m barely watching movies for free. I don’t owe ya’ll anything.
Why does Brick work?
It shouldn’t. A neonoir movie set in a high school, focusing on a murder investigation by a kind of dweeby dude? A movie that creates it’s own slang and narrative drive out of thin air, making high school kids talk in a way that no high school kid would ever talk, and destroying all ideas of realness in cinema? A high school that has it’s own Kingpin, muscle, and places where people eat, codified like adult life?
On the surface, this movie seems like an over the top, kind of dumb premise. A noir movie in a high school could have been a Zac Efron vehicle, where they make dumb jokes and it’s all played for laughs. Brick doesn’t do that. It has too much respect for the form of things to do that.
Brick is interested in telling a serious story. The death of a high school student who got involved with drugs and the wrong people and paid the price. The movie plays with noir tropes, like the police who come down on the detective, the brain who knows all the information, the moll and the big bad. The movie wants you to know that all of these things are profoundly serious for the characters, and that in this high school, all of these things matter. Everyone has an angle, everyone is looking for something, and eventually, everything is going to go sideways. So, how do you make this sort of silly idea serious?
Joseph Gordon Levitt is Incredible
In some ways, this movie should be called Joseph Gordon Levitt can carry any movie you want, but that title is long and uninformative.
JGL invests a richness and depth to his character, that we believe that he believes that all of this is important. Some other actors would do this film with a smirk, acknowledging that this is a bit silly, but we’re sold that it is completely serious because JGL is totally invested. The complex and strange dialog sounds smooth as silk coming from him. He is always one step ahead of us. He anchors the movie, appearing in nearly every scene that isn’t a flashback.
JGL gives everything to this movie. Every time he says something wry or biting, he shows this inner turmoil and pain, and completely sells that these are actually high school characters. Every time an adult gets involved, we see the complete separation between the world of the kids and the world of the adults. It rings true because high school is a time of profound distance between kids and adults.
When we think about high school, we remember the feeling of alienation that comes with being a child. High school is the first time we had some autonomy, so it was finally a time that our parents couldn’t understand us. The fads, ideas, music, even work separated us from the adult world, even as we were on the cusp of joining it. It’s that vague familiarity that truly locks this movie down. You are nostalgic for a time that never existed, and this movie plays on that nostalgia.