Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005)

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milk114
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#1 Post by milk114 » Tue Apr 18, 2006 1:45 am

it's on a few peoples' top-ten lists of the year so far but no discussion ensues that I could find?

What a great f*ing movie. instead of trying to be film noir lite, Johnson goes back to the pulp detective novels and really draws from Hammett's continental op. there are some flashy editing tricks to remind us of its indie nature but they serve the story and especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character's frame of mind rather than becoming distracting. I found the film entertaining and worthy of many viewings in the future.

I wonder, though, if there is any homage or debt paid to film noir. As I said, I saw a direct route from Hammett's work to Brick but its highly possible I missed some shot or musical cue that Im unfamiliar with.

Im shit at reviewing things but I wanna point out that I thought the music and music cues were fantastic. I wouldnt mind sitting through traffic listening to the soundtrack. And the language, which has gotten a lot of praise (and some flack) does start flowing at certain points where it starts to strain credibility but upended my suspension of disbelief that these high school kids were running around doing that which they did. And the last thing I'd note is the importance of cars and phones, or the lack thereof. Johnson found a great way to evoke Marlowe or Spade or the Continental Op with his use of cars and phones. And the lack of gumshoes. yeah. so anyone care to comment?

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ben d banana
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#2 Post by ben d banana » Tue Apr 18, 2006 3:45 am

Pretty much loved it, although it surely doesn't hurt that I'm a sucker for "quality" noir and teen films. I derived a great deal of pleasure from the contradiction of the hard-boiled dialogue and tough guy shenanigans with the home and school settings, which had the woman down the aisle from us repeatedly howling (I'm a tad more reserved). Some may find that easy fodder for cheap laughs and the scenario and dialogue contrived, but that's why they call it subjectivity.

Looks like Gordon-Levitt is on his way to a fine career.

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Oedipax
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#3 Post by Oedipax » Tue Apr 18, 2006 4:06 am

I saw this tonight. I understand why it's being hyped so much but I wasn't a fan. Clever dialogue only goes so far with me, and these days it seems the films I enjoy most use very little dialogue at all. "Coolness" and "cleverness" in film is usually off-putting to me - just seems destined for the dorm-room pantheon of films like Boondock Saints and Donnie Darko, and a high ranking on IMDB's top 200. After a while the whole thing just felt like it was going through the motions, putting the pieces of a puzzle together, but not a puzzle to which I was much interested in finding out the solution. My favorite thing about it was hearing "Sister Ray" in a theater - that alone pretty much made it worth seeing.

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ben d banana
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#4 Post by ben d banana » Tue Apr 18, 2006 4:40 am

Oedipax wrote:...hearing "Sister Ray" in a theater - that alone pretty much made it worth seeing.
Well, we agree on one thing.

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Dylan
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#5 Post by Dylan » Tue Apr 18, 2006 8:48 am

I can't wait to see this, it looks and sounds wonderful, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is such an excellent actor ("Mysterious Skin" was a hell of a great film, and his performance was a big part of that). I'm unfortunately doubtful my town will get it, but if it does I'm there opening day, first showing.

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hearthesilence
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#6 Post by hearthesilence » Tue Apr 18, 2006 3:44 pm

ben d banana wrote:
Oedipax wrote:...hearing "Sister Ray" in a theater - that alone pretty much made it worth seeing.
Well, we agree on one thing.
YES.

For the record, I dug it, but it got a little hokey sometimes. I love it more on a conceptual level.

I wish they took it further, I think the idea had more potential and the high school felt a little underused, but to be fair, it had a very limited budget. Wasn't it like $500,000?

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Len
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#7 Post by Len » Thu Apr 20, 2006 11:18 am

I can't wait to see this. Looks interesting, and the trailer is one of the best I've seen in ages.

Too bad I'll prolly have to wait till the dvd, as I'd imagine the chances of this getting a theatrical release here are pretty slim.

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Antoine Doinel
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#8 Post by Antoine Doinel » Tue Apr 25, 2006 10:06 pm

Saw this tonight and loved it. It sorta stumbles out of the gates, but after the first half-hour this thing builds a helluva lotta steam and doesn't let up. What was up the director's shoe fetish? The language can be tricky, especially if you've never heard it before, but for noir lovers like myself it was pure joy listening to the dialogue and it really fell into a great rhythm at certain points. This was tremendously inventive visually as well - the mirror sequence was especially clever. Great debut from a promising director. One of the year's finest so far.

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#9 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Mon Aug 21, 2006 12:46 pm

Antoine Doinel wrote:Saw this tonight and loved it. It sorta stumbles out of the gates, but after the first half-hour this thing builds a helluva lotta steam and doesn't let up. What was up the director's shoe fetish? The language can be tricky, especially if you've never heard it before, but for noir lovers like myself it was pure joy listening to the dialogue and it really fell into a great rhythm at certain points. This was tremendously inventive visually as well - the mirror sequence was especially clever. Great debut from a promising director. One of the year's finest so far.
Agreed. I love this movie. Finally caught up with it on DVD and was very taken with it.

I liked how the director focused on tiny details captured in close-up shots, like a burning cigarette or lingering shots of people's shoes or, most memorably, the dead girl's hand resting in shallow water. Many of these visual cues seemed to me to be nods to David Lynch -- esp. the shot of the ceiling fan which, of course, referenced Twin Peaks. The way the characters tended to speak, in a specific cryptic fashion also reminded me of Lynch but the nature of the the snappy dialogue that flew fast and furious between characters seemed to me to be more akin to the way people speak in Howard Hawks films or countless other noirs.

Altho, I felt that the film's closest cinematic kinship was the Coens' Miller's Crossing, which makes sense as it too is a love letter to Dashiell Hammett. Like Gabriel Byrne's character in Miller's Crossing, Brendan is a smart guy who is often shown thinking as he tries to stay two steps ahead of everyone else. He is also someone who is able to figure out all the angles and play them to his advantage but in the process gets repeatedly beaten up (much like Byrne's character).

I listened to some of the director's commentary and one of the first things he says is that Miller's Crossing was a huge influence on him in film school and that he is a big fan of the Coens so that pretty much confirmed my assumptions.

I'm looking forward to this guy's next movie (http://www.thebrothersbloom.com/) based on how much this one impressed me.

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Antoine Doinel
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#10 Post by Antoine Doinel » Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:32 am

Wow, thanks for the Brothers Bloom link.

Rian Johnson has also just shot a music video for The Mountain Goats which you can view here: http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/n ... _Fall_Tour

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Len
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#11 Post by Len » Fri Dec 01, 2006 8:07 pm

Finally got my hands on this about a week ago on dvd. I loved it (although whoever is in charge of the UK DVD not having english subs deserves to be put in front of an firing squad. Several times I had to replay a scene repeatedly to understand the dialogue).

It's weird how at times it's just so close to just falling apart and becoming this silly parody of the genre or just an interesting curiosity, but at no point does it actually go into that territory (ok, the "throw one at me, hashheads"-line was maybe too cool for school, but I loved it anyways). Even at it's most ridiculous moments, there's always something that keeps the film grounded.

And I loved the way the film kinda goes into the mind of the teenager in a rather unorthodox fashion. When you're a teenager, things that might be ridiculous for an adult, like the high school pecking order (I loved how there were conversations about which group which character is sitting with at the cafeteria), are infact deadly serious, and the film approaches them as such. There could've been lots of situations to play these scenes for laughs, but the film respects these social conventions the same way that an actual teenager would. The characters and situations are obviously pretty far out there, but way they're approached feels very real.

It's a wonderfully strong debut from Rian Johnson, that's for sure. The script for this is obviously really risky. All the ingredients for a disaster are so clearly here, and with an different approach the end result could've been totally horrifying, like some weird variation of Bugsy Malone with kids playing hard-boiled parts. But I think Johnson has found just the right way to do the script, and at times the film almost even reminds me of The Long Goodbye (although that probably is related to the fact that I watched both films the same evening). Also, a large part of the film rests on Gordon-Levitt's wonderful performance, which is certainly one of the finest I've seen all year. I haven't seen Mysterious Skin (went and ordered it immediately after seeing this though) yet, so he was basically familiar to me just from 3rd Rock From The Sun, which obviously is not a place for an actor to show off his skills. The rest of the cast did good too, and I wouldn't really want to start picking favorites out of the bunch, as they were all excellent.

Visually it was also very accomplished, as others have well pointed out. Loved how the look of the film has basically nothing in common with the John Alton-esque look of film noir, but instead has this weird, almost dreamlike vibe going for it (agree with Fletch on the whole Lynch thing, had to be intentional), where sunny suburban california seems atleast as oppressing as LA after dark in the classics of the genre. But if the film has something in common with the classic look of noir, it's these gorgeous closeups of the characters and the focus on the facial expressions.

Definitely one of my favorite films this year and one of the best american indies I've seen in ages. Can't wait for Johnson's next film.

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a.khan
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#12 Post by a.khan » Sat Dec 02, 2006 1:55 pm

Rian Johnson's debut film has strong visual vitality; it manages quiet moments with the most urgent in scenes. Consider the part in the film when Brendan walks past a black mustang and notice how it sits there in peaceful solitude, empty without its master, and then hear the wind gently whistle; then witness a sudden explosion of violence. It reminded me of Gus Van Sant's austerity and minimalism in "Elephant" which may be writer-director Rian Johnson's primary visual influence. (Edit: I'm pasting this entry from my journal, which was written many months ago. Fletch's point about the “Miller's Crossingâ€

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colinr0380
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#13 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Dec 02, 2006 7:08 pm

There is a podcast interview with Rian Johnson here. It is episode 2 of the series Behind The Black Mask, a spin-off podcast series from the people who do Out of the Past discussing film noir.

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jorencain
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#14 Post by jorencain » Sat Dec 02, 2006 9:17 pm

Here's another good interview on a Podcast (Filmspotting).

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John Cope
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#15 Post by John Cope » Mon Dec 04, 2006 4:30 am

I too love this film. Upon repeated viewings what stands out for me are the extraordinary performances (especially by Gordon-Levitt) and the precision of the direction (especially the composition of the frame). Obviously the dialogue hits you first but without these other key components Brick would be a still born novelty piece, pivoting on a gimmick. But Johnson sells the authenticity of his experimental narrative by persuading us that the technique has great and legitimate resonance for his characters. It's yet another case of form informing content and vice versa. That's a criteria for the best films of this or any year.

Unlike hearthesilence I felt the high school setting was perfectly employed. It does feel underused as a prop but it's meant to I think. No, underused is the wrong word--uninhabited would be more accurate. The setting for Brick is actually a psychic one, contextualizing the action in a way not dissimilar to the way Almereyda makes use of Manhattan in his Hamlet. This is clearly not a "realistic" depiction and there are indications in both cases that the stylistic device is endemic only to the closed, hermetic environment we are directly experiencing--the scene with The Pin's mom in Brick, for instance, or the MoviePhone voice in Hamlet. This lets us in on the larger game being pursued, the game that makes the whole effort worthwhile.

To put it bluntly, these stylistic devices are coping strategies, but as with most coping strategies there is an additional poetic element in play which opens up the experience to a wider examination and allows for access to wisdom and truth otherwise unavailable. In both cases one could argue that the depiction of reality emanates from the broken consciousness of the lead character, but this is not even a necessary prerequisite. Neither film demands to be read this way and to do so ultimately diminishes the vast applicability of their poetic insight. This is the world of common tragedy elevated to mythos as it rightly should be (another example, of course, is Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me). I remember reviews of Brick which dismissed it for supposedly trivializing the currency of its noir components but this is short sighted; as though the depths of pain are available only to a certain age range which has accrued a certain amount of direct experience. Rian Johnson quite capably points out the falsity of any such argument.

Anyway, I do agree with Len that the absence of subs on the UK DVD is absurd and deeply frustrating as the language is a joy to be in tandem with. The subs thing is the only place where the region 1 DVD scores points, however, as the 2 disc British set is otherwise really terrific in its wealth of extra features. One question, though (and I'm not opening a separate thread for this). There's supposed to be a hidden feature on this set which I gather is a short film Johnson made years ago but I haven't been able to unearth it. Any clues? Someone elsewhere said that it required highlighting the "A" on the menu screen but I see no such thing on either disc.

Oh, and here's an excellent resource for you if you care to investigate Johnson's world more thoroughly.

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#16 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Mon Dec 04, 2006 10:44 am

John Cope wrote:Unlike hearthesilence I felt the high school setting was perfectly employed. It does feel underused as a prop but it's meant to I think. No, underused is the wrong word--uninhabited would be more accurate. The setting for Brick is actually a psychic one, contextualizing the action in a way not dissimilar to the way Almereyda makes use of Manhattan in his Hamlet. This is clearly not a "realistic" depiction and there are indications in both cases that the stylistic device is endemic only to the closed, hermetic environment we are directly experiencing--the scene with The Pin's mom in Brick, for instance, or the MoviePhone voice in Hamlet.
It's interesting because another film I kept thinking of when watching Brick was Coppola's Rumble Fish which also employs stylistic touches to create a specific, heremetic, even dream-like environment. Both films feel like they take place in another time and another place. I also felt that the atmospheric music had the experimental, percussive qualities reminiscent of Stewart Copeland's score to Rumble Fish that seemed to symbolize time running out -- i.e. Gordon-Levitt's character's time was running out to solve the murder of his girlfriend and keep all these other narrative balls in the air as well.

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#17 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Wed Apr 11, 2007 8:28 pm

Saw it on one of the Cinemax channels last month, and got the DVD last week. One of the best movies from a first time director I've ever seen. I too like the juxtaposition of a crime story set in high school. It presents an interesting angle on these characters somewhat based on certain high-school stereotypes.

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Robotron
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#18 Post by Robotron » Thu Apr 12, 2007 2:50 am

All the praise is surprising to me; I absolutely hated it. It seemed to me to be ridiculously derivative of the Coen brothers, who I disdain to begin with, only it emphasizes style over substance even more than they do. Reducing noir from a idea to collection of antiquated slang and archetypal characters (but in high school!) seems more like pissing on the genre than any kind of tribute. I'll take a real attempt at revival, like The Ice Harvest, over this glossy and mocking piece of shit any day of the week.

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Len
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#19 Post by Len » Thu Apr 12, 2007 4:53 am

Try as I might, I'm having trouble making the connection with the Coens' films. I see some similiarities ofcourse, but I think Brick's approach to the conventions (and form) of noir is vastly different from that of the Coens' with The Man Who Wasn't There (which always seemed not much more than an interesting novelty) and their other films.

Infact, I think in the end Brick doesn't take too much influence from actual noir films but seems more of a "what if?"-interpretation of themes and setups from the novels that influenced the whole genre. It's easy to see the influence of Dashiell Hammett's writing (which obviously is something that Johnson has spoken about alot), but I don't notice for example the influence of the style of Otto Preminger or John Huston in the film too much. Naturally Brick has it's references to classics of the genre, but as a whole I think it's style and originality are so distinct that to simply describe it as a "modern day noir set in a highschool in sunny california" doesn't begin to do justice to the film at all.

Offtopic: thanks to colinr for the link to Out Of The Past, I've enjoyed the podcasts on the site quite a bit.

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#20 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Thu Apr 12, 2007 9:18 am

Robotron wrote:All the praise is surprising to me; I absolutely hated it. It seemed to me to be ridiculously derivative of the Coen brothers, who I disdain to begin with, only it emphasizes style over substance even more than they do. Reducing noir from a idea to collection of antiquated slang and archetypal characters (but in high school!) seems more like pissing on the genre than any kind of tribute. I'll take a real attempt at revival, like The Ice Harvest, over this glossy and mocking piece of shit any day of the week.
I dug The Ice Harvest too but at times it felt derivative of Fargo. To me, I always felt that Brick was a brilliant merging of the sensibilities of the Coens and David Lynch. Brick has the dense plotting and pulp noir speak of Miller's Crossing (Rian Johnson even admits to being obsessed with the film in the commentary track if memory serves) but with some of the visual darkness of Lynch -- there's a shot of a ceiling fan that made me think of Twin Peaks not to mention the murder of a girl that kick-starts everything.

That being said, I never felt that Johnson was ripping off these filmmakers or films and that he imparted enough of his own sensibilities to make it unique.

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Robotron
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#21 Post by Robotron » Thu Apr 12, 2007 1:56 pm

Len wrote:Try as I might, I'm having trouble making the connection with the Coens' films. I see some similiarities ofcourse, but I think Brick's approach to the conventions (and form) of noir is vastly different from that of the Coens' with The Man Who Wasn't There (which always seemed not much more than an interesting novelty) and their other films.
The Coen film that it most deserves to be compared to would be The Big Lebowski, an update of The Big Sleep which is also features its helping of caricature characters. Debating which film is more successful is inherently subjective, but it was far and away Lebowski for me. The Coens superficiality is far less overt and their update far more creative than mere adherence to old slang.
Fletch F. Fletch wrote:I dug The Ice Harvest too but at times it felt derivative of Fargo. To me, I always felt that Brick was a brilliant merging of the sensibilities of the Coens and David Lynch. Brick has the dense plotting and pulp noir speak of Miller's Crossing (Rian Johnson even admits to being obsessed with the film in the commentary track if memory serves) but with some of the visual darkness of Lynch -- there's a shot of a ceiling fan that made me think of Twin Peaks not to mention the murder of a girl that kick-starts everything.

That being said, I never felt that Johnson was ripping off these filmmakers or films and that he imparted enough of his own sensibilities to make it unique.
I won't deny it was interesting aesthetically, but the aesthetics aren't what bothered me.

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#22 Post by starmanof51 » Thu Apr 12, 2007 2:24 pm

Robotron wrote:The Coen film that it most deserves to be compared to would be The Big Lebowski, an update of The Big Sleep which is also features its helping of caricature characters.
Well this a bit of an odd discussion to get into - what Coen Brothers movie is it most like - but to continue, why do you think Big Lebowski? We've had three tossed out there now in relation to Brick, TBL as well as Man Who Wasn't There and Miller's Crossing. I would have chosen (at the very least on a narrative level) Miller's Crossing, which gets you back to Dashiell Hammett and The Glass Key. If there's any hardboiled/noir string that's getting plucked especially hard here, I would have though it was Hammett, not Chandler.

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Robotron
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#23 Post by Robotron » Thu Apr 12, 2007 2:55 pm

starmanof51 wrote:Well this a bit of an odd discussion to get into - what Coen Brothers movie is it most like - but to continue, why do you think Big Lebowski? We've had three tossed out there now in relation to Brick, TBL as well as Man Who Wasn't There and Miller's Crossing. I would have chosen (at the very least on a narrative level) Miller's Crossing, which gets you back to Dashiell Hammett and The Glass Key. If there's any hardboiled/noir string that's getting plucked especially hard here, I would have though it was Hammett, not Chandler.
I say Lebowski because of the similar "odd couple" set-up: a noir updated to a seemingly incompatible modern setting.

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#24 Post by Poncho Punch » Thu Apr 12, 2007 3:16 pm

Well, the Coen brothers' film certainly plays around a lot more with the genre stereotypes, offering incredible distortions of what you might expect from a film noir (or a stoner flick, for that matter). But I thought Brick did something completely different, and equally worthwhile: in transposing a fairly classic noir story from, say, union disputes or bootlegging in the 1930s to a high school drug ring in modern times, it highlighted the gradual transformation and co-opting of stereotypes from films or novels of the former time period into the present. If it seems melodramatic and artificial, think back to your own high school experience - personally, watching the film again, each caricature reminded me of persons I knew in high school (and the older versions of them I know now) as well as characters from Red Harvest, Little Caeser, Double Indemnity, etc. Part of the joy for me was in further acknowledging these common archetypes and understanding more of how and why they appear again and again in fiction and my own life.

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John Cope
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#25 Post by John Cope » Thu Apr 12, 2007 4:19 pm

Robotron wrote:Reducing noir from a idea to collection of antiquated slang and archetypal characters (but in high school!) seems more like pissing on the genre than any kind of tribute.
This critique seems to miss the point, at least as I see it. For me, the accomplishment of Brick is not its adherence to or re-invention of particular genre trappings but the respect it shows for its traumatized human heart. In this, Johnson is aided tremendously by his performers, especially Levitt, who convince us of their devastation and loss while cloaking these very real emotional responses in a protective guise of archaic lingo and stylized role playing (which is what Alan Rudolph built a career on).

Beyond this, Brick is about the fragility of language as a means of communication, about the way it can seek to control circumstances through formalism, defending against intimacy and vulnerability. It exposes us to the fact that artifice meant to shield and protect also has a very tenuous hold on real experience as lived. Brick is all about the fragmentation of maintaining an identity of disassociation at all costs (which leads us invariably back to Miami Vice...).

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