I've been trying to pony up with a report and review of Brick weekend, but at this point, I've abandoned the notion of a review. Obviously, I love the holy hell out of this film and my friends, so there's no way I'll be producing anything that purports to be an objective look, and anyway, I don't believe in objectivity. This post is more of an appreciation, than I review, I'd say.
I've been reading the proper reviews, of course, and they always mention that Brick is a film noir, set in high school, referencing films like The Maltese Falcon. It's true that Brick owes a debt to those films, sharing a common source in the novels of Dashiell Hammett, but frankly, the thing I love most about Brick is not the ways in which it's true to those sources, but the way it diverges from them; Brick isn't a nostalgic re-imagination of that genre, as much as it's a film that uses that familiar language to tell us a story that's much fresher than that, and revealed by its relationship to those archetypes.
The lynchpin line in The Maltese Falcon (brilliant, FYI) is when Bogart's Sam Spade tells the Femme Fatale that "when a man's partner gets killed, he's supposed to do something about it." Despite (or because of) the fact that Spade doesn't like or respect his partner - he's been sleeping with his partner's wife, and doesn't like her, either - it's his detached willingness to submit to that directive that is the source of his hard-bitten heroism: Spade is tough, competent, aggressive, and he'll do the right thing in the end. So, when he sends that scheming Brigid O'Shaughnessy down the river because maybe "every part of him doesn't want to," Spade's emotion is as terse as Hammett's brilliant dialogue. He's the perfect specimen of a bygone era, driven by external expectations of what a man's gotta do to be a man, even if it means he has to sacrifice his own heart.
Brick's Brendan Frye couldn't be more differently motivated, and even though nothing outside of the dictates of his own heart demand that he put himself on the line for his murdered ex-girlfriend, he pursues his self-appointed task with single-minded intensity not for money or honor, but because there's something in him that he can't let go: his love. Brendan, like Spade, is resourceful, observant, willing to suffer, and emotionally detached when he has to be; but he's also a high school kid, and the girl he loves has been killed.
When I first read the script, my favorite part was when Brendan, worn out by sickness, grief, several beatings, and the whole pressure-cooker situation, breaks down and cries in the arms of the wrong woman. I liked it because it showed us his heart in a way that isn't heroic, and he's not a 40 year old hardboiled detective; he's a young man with a broken heart. I feel like I've got to write a goddamned thesis to justifiably arrive at this next bit, but who has time for that? I'm just going to tell you that the big question for me, back in my days of soaking in ye old feminist theory classes in college was, now that we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater on a whole range of masculine ways of engaging the universe, what becomes of those legitimate powers? Because, the world needs them, and like matter, I believe they cannot be created or destroyed. It always seemed to me that an authentic answer had to be spontaneously arising, so Robert Bly's whole barbaric yawp thing aside, I'd say you can find some examples of an answer to that question, for instance, in the oeuvre of Trent Reznor, and you can find another in Brick.
I know all y'all haven't had the pleasure of seeing Brick, but for those who have, here's what I loved: Brendan's expression of consternation when Emily rejects his protection, and the way his clear, bespectacled face in the flashback gives way to the bruised look of grim determination he wears on his way to hide her body.
I love the way the other characters present a laundry list of failures to ante up: The Pin, holed up in his mom's basement, wishing he could just disappear into the Hobbit books; Tugger, with his muscle car, so inarticulately bound up in anger and violence that all he can do is sputter and fight; and poor Dode, whose heart is in the right place, but he spends all his time smoking pot behind a dumpster - a loser who just doesn't have what it takes. Even Brendan has his moment of failure, when his desire to protect Emily drives her away.
I love Brendan's tough competence, his brain, and his ability to play his cards; but more than that, I love his consternation. I love the stark quaver in his face when he stands up to Tugger's Mustang, the way impotent sadness shapes his posture when Emily tells him to leave her alone and let her go, and I love that he doesn't grieve in stoic half-measures. In the end, for me, it's Brendan's heart that makes his toughness and sacrifice feel heroic.
I've got about 10 more pages of blather in me on this topic, but I'll spare you all. For any of you that saw it, what were your favorite things?