Monday, April 10, 2006

So I saw Brick, the movie I was talking about last week. Fun stuff. In case you didn’t know, Brick is a crime thriller in the old school, Maltese Falcon, Big Sleep sort of way – right down to the hard boiled speaking rhythms you might associate with Humphrey Bogart, but set in a present day Southern California high school.

The writer/director definitely had ambition, which is more than I can say about most films these days. I appreciate anyone who makes a film in an original and compelling way. Johnson is a great craftsman and you can see that he took real care in building his movie. I especially enjoyed his action sequences and the fights which had the satisfying jolt of a good Tarantio blood ballet instead of the handheld muddy confusion that is the preferred mode of hack filmmakers recently (a good example of this awfulness is The Bourne Supremacy.)

Another nice thing about Johnson’s work was that, with all the noir gimmicks and clever writing style, he wasn’t afraid to sit back now and then and let the actor’s do the work. One particularly beautiful scene was between the lead character, Brendan (Joseph Gordon Leavitt) and his femme fatale (Nora Zehetner). One of their more intense scenes, the dialog was delivered in a tight close up profile and holds there for almost the entire duration of the scene. At first I was annoyed and needed a cut. I was distracted by the fact that I didn’t know what each of the actors was talking about, but then I really started to study both of the faces and look at the reactions of the person who wasn’t speaking. It’s rare these days that a movie would allow us the opportunity to dig deep into a scene and trust that we’re going to pull things out of it ourselves. So much filmmaking is supposed to be all fireworks and roller coasters and it just ends up, well, sucking (again, The Bourne Supremacy.)

Unfortunately, towards the end of Brick, the conceit begins to buckle under the weight of it’s own cleverness. I found myself confused, which is not always a bad thing. I can watch Chinatown and LA Confidential and Touch of Evil time and time again and still learn something new each time about character and motivation (and filmmaking, for that matter.) The thing I realized with Brick, however, is that, in the case of noir, I like to have a broad age range of actors because so many of the noir themes that I like are about youth running up against an establishment. There is often a generational push and pull and the hero usually runs up against an corrupt leader. There were a couple of cute scenes between Brendan and the principal of his high school, but their relationship really didn’t develop much.

Also, one of my favorite ingredients with noir is the femme fatales. Usually older women, the femme fatale is someone who’s given up on finding love and uses their quickly disappearing seductiveness to manipulate men. I mean, really, what could be more fun? As Brick taught me, it’s hard to believe a femme fatale voice in the body of a high school girl. The Femme Fatale really needs to have kick ass legs, torpedo breasts and be smoking a cigarette – all the while nursing a needy, desperate desire to love and be loved.


One other thought crept into my mind as I watched Brick. Here’s this guy, Rian Johnson. I haven’t ever heard of him, but he seems like an interesting filmmaker who’s arrived. He definitely has the chops. How cool is that that he got to make his film the way he wanted to? It’s easy to get down on Hollywood. Living here is especially hard sometimes with the traffic and the endless cold calls and rejection letters. But then comes along a movie like Brick that, even if it’s not the best thing you’ve seen in your whole life, there is something there that is unique and true and pure and I’m hoping Mr. Johnson will become the kind of filmmaker that will bring something new to the table each time he makes a movie. And here’s to hoping that, someday, everyone with a unique voice will have that same opportunity.


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