Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Top Films: Brick

Sometimes you crave a mystery that treats evil dispassionately, like a puzzle. At other times you want a more American, out-for-justice, see-the-evil-doers-get-there’s approach. For the latter, you turn to the hard boiled genre. Sure, it is often less about the substance and more about the style, but that style can be really entertaining.

There is a scene in Ryan Johnson’s modern day noir where Brendan is fleeing from a knife wielding thug. The chase is accentuated by the clap-clap of Brendan’s shoes (shoes are an important thematic element in Brick) against the pavement as he runs, and the thud-thud of the thug’s boots following. The whole chase ends in a dramatic, metallic clang. That is the sort of cinematic beauty that we get in this first time effort.

Sure, it is set in a modern day high school, but this is not a case of postmodern genre bending. It is played straight and holds true to the classics of the genre right down to the Hammett and Chandler inspirational material. It is a complicated mystery plot with terribly clever and thick dialogue. You will not get away with lazy viewing here. The story makes sense, but you will be required to think and process the facts as it moves along.

And in the end, that is what all detective fiction boils down to. A story is always straight forward if told that way. The detective fiction story teller’s job is to tell it in such a way that the viewer gets to experience the story as the detective does…only getting facts when it is time for them to be processed. In this case the facts are being processed simply to find the truth. It is too late for them to be used to help anyone. A murder has occurred, and Brendan wants to know who is to blame.

If you like mystery fiction, if you like noir or even just great cinema… you owe it to yourself to see Brick. It has a place among the great neo-noir like L.A. Confidential and Chinatown.

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