Sifting Through Netflix: Thoughts on “Brick”

Disclaimer: I’ve had a growing list of movies on my Netflix Instant Queue (I pronounce it “qway” by the way). Recently, I’ve taken to plodding through them, and rather than doing a full, traditional review for each, I think it’ll be neat to just scribble out some random thoughts and give you my impression on whether or not it’s worth your time.

So, in short, this is a feature for any Netflix users out there who are wondering what hidden gems they should find to put on their own Queue. Hope you like it!

It’s becoming quite clear to me lately that all the best filmmakers out there have a man-crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has come a long way from the insufferable, long-haired alien in sitcom “Third Rock From the Sun.” He pops up with poignantly dramatic roles in blockbuster films by Christopher Nolan and even in more charming roles in a film like “(500) Days of Summer”. Another filmmaker that seems to just love working with Levitt is Rian Johnson, perhaps best known for the superb “Brothers Bloom” film and for the recently released trailer for his upcoming film “Looper” (both films are definitely worth your time in checking out). “Brick” (2005) was Rian Johnson’s debut, and it won its fair share of acclaim, but is it worth your time to stick on your qway? The Netflix Fox tells all!

Think of the best Film Noir movie you’ve ever seen, and the parts that made it work: a narrator/protagonist who gets progressively more sick/injured but still battles on, a femme fatale or two that’s as beautiful as they are deadly, a sparse amount of violence that always surprises you, and above all, a mind-bending mystery so packed with dramatic tension and intrigue that you can’t help but crave a cigarette when it’s all finally over. You’re probably picturing doughy-eyed vixens and detectives with long coats and wide hats, and of course, lots of rain, because rain seems to soak every dreary noir world. But what if instead of some sleepy, crime-ridden city, a filmmaker tried to translate everything into a more familiar setting: high school. It’s absolutely absurd, I know. But damnit that’s what Johnson does with “Brick” and it works almost terrifyingly well.

Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is, for all intents and purposes, our steely-eyed detective, who after receiving a panicked telephone call from an ex-girlfriend, gets caught up in a mystery that he initially wants nothing to do with. But once said ex turns up dead, Brendan takes it upon himself to crack the case wide open, deftly navigating between high school social circles and drug rings as if they were one in the same…which they somehow, absurdly are. But these aren’t petty drug dealers and stoners (like in real high school), these are drug barons with hired muscle, cliques that are gangs, and beautiful females that play all the angles to get what they want. Don’t let the setting fool you, “Brick” is film noir through and through, and takes it more seriously than some literal pieces of film noir that I’ve seen.

It’s a little hysterical how seriously “Brick” takes itself. The actual setting is constantly in your face and interrupts the main plot in some pretty comical ways. Crime bosses are oftentimes the popular kids; one cheerleader stereotype girl literally has a “Lap Dog” freshman who always lays his head in her lap. Classic! Or there’s a moment after a heated basement interrogation where they “take it upstairs” and somebody’s adorably kind mother serves the group apple juice while the threats of murder still hang in the air. It has this curious effect in the first half of the movie, making you think, “Who do these kids think they are? They are just in high school!”

It almost made me expect that at any given moment – like in “Lord of the Flies” – that  some adult would come out of nowhere as the God Machine and shut down the entire silly game. But once Brandon gets into a heated argument with the Vice Principal of the school, echoing like a shouting match between some private detective and a police captain out of an old film? Well, shit gets real, and these high schoolers mean business. Once the story really opens up, there are murders and pregnancies, drug deals and shootouts. People die. People go to jail. This is real life. The end forcibly and effectively reels in any bits of ridiculousness at the setting and the realism slaps you in the face like..well, like a “Brick”.

So ultimately, Brick is pretty dang good. It has that oppressively dark tone that oozes out of any good noir film, but if you enjoy that sort of heavy mystery, then you should definitely go for it!

I gave this one 4/5 stars on my Netflix account!

Much love,

The NetFox

PS. NetFox = Netflix Fox, but I reckon I’d get sued if I market the full name!