It always interests me when someone takes a new spin to an established genre. I think it’s because the final result will go one of two ways – either it will be incredibly awesome, or it will crash and burn and take a lot of innocent people with it. And out of all the genres that one could try this with, the most risky is using a classic genre, one that has been “superseded” as it were – take, for example, Film Noir. Thanks to Neo-Noir, you don’t often see a take on the classic version (in fact, I think the last ‘pure’ Film Noir I can remember seeing is LA Confidential...I’m sure there have been others between that and today’s film, but I can’t recall). I mean, sure, there have been Noir films made since the rise of the Neo version, but all have had elements of other genres mixed in; or the Noir has been ultimately secondary to the other genres. Today’s film is, in all but location (which ultimately takes nothing or adds nothing to the Noir tale, merely, as I said, a chance for a new spin on the established), a pure Film Noir. Today’s film is Brick.
I’ll be describing the characters in terms of their place in the Film Noir lexicon, because they are all very pure, well done takes on those established tropes. The story opens with the Detective of the piece; Brendan, receiving a mysterious message from the Damsel In Distress; his ex-girlfriend Emily, who has gotten herself tied in with the mysterious Mr Big; The ‘Pin. Forcing himself into the ‘underground’, by way of the Femme Fatale; Laura, Brendan soon finds himself tangling with drug fiends, heavies and more intrigue than he first thought upon trying to bring Emily back. Following her death, his quest for revenge brings him directly into The Pin’s crosshairs.
And the new spin I was talking about? The whole tale takes place in a sunny, southern Californian high school, possibly the least likely place to set a noir tale. But it works perfectly, thanks in no small part to Rian Johnson’s dead on script, the performances from the various players and even the music (composed and performed by Rian’s brother, Nathan); all combining to make an atmospheric, well thought out and tense little piece of Noir goodness. Each of the players, from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s central performance as Brendan, through to Richard Roundtree as Principal Goodman (basically playing The Hardass Mayor) have all bought their A game to this, each looking (clothes and age aside) that they have just stepped out of a Film Noir collection.
Let’s just take a moment to talk about the music, shall we? One of the most atmospheric soundtracks I have heard in recent years. Coming out of the same talented nowhere as his brother, Nathan (and his collaborators, The Cinematic Underground) put together a series of tracks that are all melancholy strings and handbells (trust me, this really works), that do nothing but set an atmosphere of loneliness, foreboding and dread. Even the few pre-existing tracks that are scattered throughout add to the feeling, having been pulled from the Noir era themselves.
You can definitely tell that this film was put together by someone who has the utmost love of the genre, as every shot and character could just as easily be placed into one of the “big names” of Film Noir and almost not be out of place.
This film isn’t in my top five of all time for the hell of it – it blew me away the first time I saw it, and it still does.