Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Brick Productions
Director: Rian Johnson
Length: 110 min.
Country: USA
Format: 35mm
Date Viewed: 7 April, 2006

Rian Johnson, with his debut film, Brick, joins Darren Aronofsky and Shane Carruth in a group that, over the last few years, has been bringing back the spirit of '70s cinema by making low-budget, inventive and intelligent films with a visual style reminiscent of their predecessors - Scorsese, Carpenter, Romero, to name a few. With, Brick, the visuals owe a huge debt to the '70s, but the structure and dialogue, of course, come straight from the '40s and '50s, transplanting this era's film noir trappings onto a modern day Southern California high school.

The experiment had so many ways to go wrong, and in a couple small areas it does, but on the whole it's a huge success. As for its flaws, they include inconsistent cinematography, with a handful of shots out of step with the rest of the film which call too much attention to the framing, though these aren't necessarily jarring enough to be more than a quibble.

The other and much bigger flaw is in the sound mix, presenting the dialogue in a very muddy and muted fashion - strange in light of the fact that the rest of the soundtrack is quite clear. This is more of a problem than usual for three reasons: the dialogue is spoken extremely quickly, the plot is extremely complex and we learn the majority of it through the dialogue, and third, the dialogue is peppered with made-up slang to sound like a '40s or '50s film noir but is often vague enough to be unclear as to its meaning (at some point, I wanted a glossary). All of these are heavily hampered by the terrible dialogue tracks on the sound mix. If this is not fixed for the eventual DVD release, it is the hope that it will at least come with English captions. Luckily, it is still quite possible to understand the main plot, but the details are what makes the film especially fascinating, and many of the interesting details are found in this somewhat unclear dialogue.

Aside from these two issues, the film is very well made, and is one of the better modern noirs (for the best of them, see the original Insomnia, and not the Pacino crapfest). The performances are by and large outstanding, the look of the film is dark and intoxicating and the film-noir transition from crooks and cops to students and vice principals is perfect.

But the film mainly works so well because it avoids the pitfall of campiness. Johnson and his actors made the perfect choice in playing the story and characters straight. Had they included a sense of jokiness to the proceedings, even the slightest wink to the audience that they were just having some fun with some quaint dialogue, the entire film would have been a lesser work - another tedious update of older source materials created with smarm instead of a true love for said sources. Film noir is a tricky sell these days; revival screening audiences generally end up laughing at how cheap the productions were, or how "cutely antiquated" the style is. It seems like there aren't many people out there anymore who truly love the genre, and it's refreshing to see that Johnson and his cast and crew treated the genre with the respect it deserves.

Rian Johnson has created a very strong film his first time out, and it will be exciting to see what comes next from the young director.


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