Switching back and forth between film noir and neo-noir can always be an interesting process. The styles and techniques used and forgotten can sometimes really define the quality of the film you happen to be watching. Such is especially true for the neo-noir style, because of its direct comparison to many great pieces of American cinema. At least that that is what most film students are told. But in the education’s defense, they are not entirely wrong.

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Brick (2005)

Brick takes the hard boiled detective caught up in a murder mystery and spins it twice. Once by making it modern and twice by throwing it into a high school setting. Rian Johnson cleverly uses the absurdity already put in place by the film noir genre to bring realism to his first feature film. Yet, a few of the best moments in this film are when Johnson clearly takes the viewer outside the realm of reality.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt headlines this film as the high school detective, Brendan Frye. Shortly into the film, Brendan tracks down his ex-girlfriend’s lifeless body. Because her death takes place as soon as it does in the film, she does not mean much to us. But, it is over the course of Brick that the audience realizes how much she truly means to Brendan. This is what drives the film literally, yes, but emotionally as well.

Although nothing nearly as dramatic happened to most of us in high school, we are brought back to those years, reminiscing about anything relatable. It says something about Johnson’s direction that when we dig up nothing of relation we still find what we are watching to be believable.

Dialog and I have always had a rather heartfelt relationship. I find the time to appreciate it when dialog’s at its top form. For Brick, the dialog is everything. It is what connects the film to the original film noir genre. A connection I can only hope all the filmmakers involved had a great enough respect to strive for. Johnson’s writing is fantastic nonetheless, for it successfully encapsulates the tone needed to set the perfect pace throughout the film. The story keeps the audience entertained, while the dialog keeps them focused.

Even though I can lend ridiculous amounts of praise to the writing, deservedly so, at the end of the day, the film needs someone to deliver the lines, dropping a large amount of responsibility into the actors’ hands. Nevertheless, the acting in this film is most definitely one of the leading contributors to the film’s integrity. All of the cast members really seem to handle their roles with respect to the genre, while maintaining a timeless nature.

I always thought of Brick as this underground cult classic. It rarely comes up in conversation, but when it does the amount of love this film gets is uncanny. That having been said, it is almost disturbing how long it took me to finally sit down and enjoy this film. Over the years neo-noir has become quite the powerful sub-genre. It has something like Detour to look back on and something like Chinatown to compete with. Needless to say, it’s in good company. Brick has done its predecessors proud and raised the bar for what will come in the future.

Brick (2005) directed by Rian Johnson

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