Neo Noir High School Edition

Brick review (originally written 11/14/07, entered 9/19/13)

I’m sure a common criticism of Brick is that this flick consists of “This is a movie” gimmicks. I hate that criticism because its too broad and often inaccurate. Having high school kids deliver film noir dialogue and act like film noir stock characters is quite innovative to say the least. In the hands of a less talented director, such a different take on film noir would be annoying and cloy. However the young creator of the film possessed the ability to make it work.

I would argue that this film is as much a homage to old school film noir as it belongs among the class of modern neo-noir, started by films like The Long Goodbye (1973) and Chinatown (1974). Many scenes are inspired by such noirs as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946), two famous and exceptional films in the genre. I don’t wish to spoil the film, but the ending certainly cribs from The Maltese Falcon, and the standard femme fatale character reminded me of ones seen in films such as The Killing (1956) and The Lady From Shanghai (1937).

Brandon, the badass tough guy is the perfect anti-hero for the film. What I love especially about film noir protagonists is that none of them fit into clean, nicely defined good and evil definitions. In that way they are far more interesting as a result, forcing the audience to marvel at their worthy qualities as some of their rather dirty action repulse the audience as well. The character of The Pin adds another dynamic in terms of who is really the film’s villain. Just as in other film noirs at times the character who appears to be the worst character, the antagonist, is often second to someone even more dastardly. That’s not to say that is always the case, especially with The Third Man (1949) and Chinatown (1974) but at times its held true.  Only it seems in film noir that more than one villain exists, something I’ve never noticed before I saw this film.

Normally I don’t praise acting, but here the young cast was excellent. Not in terms of being actors, but in that they made the characters come off as teens, despite the fact that non-teen like dialogue was all they said. Some were better than others: Brandon pulled off the desperate street tough hero in over his head expertly. Tug was a great mix of menace and despair, while the Pin came off as mysterious yet powerful and weak, often in the same scene. Nora was the film’s strongest female performance, perfectly capturing a female allure that masked a stunning capacity for cunning.

The more  I think about this film, the more I like it. Brick is as much a film as it as an experiment in film noir referencing and neo-noir execution. Like some of the very best noirs both old and modern, it leaves the viewer feeling intrigued and maybe even a little dirty after the credits roll. Film noir is remarkable if only for presenting a fantasy land composed of nightmares and the dark side of human nature. 95

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