Brendan: I can't let her go. I was set to, but I can't. I don't think I can.
The Brain: You think you can help her?
The Brain: You think you can get the straight? Maybe break some deserving teeth?
Brendan: Yeah. I think I could.
Take film noir
, a generous dose of high school intrigue, a dash of David Lynch, and toss them all into a blender. What you get is probably going to be Brick
. That, or charges for the murder of David Lynch.
A 2006 cult film directed/written by Rian Johnson
tells the story of Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt
), a teenage loner silently pining over his ex-girlfriend, Emily. When he gets a phone call from a panicked Emily, and finds her dead in a storm drain soon after, he goes on a one-man quest to bring her murderer(s) to justice, blowing the lid off of his high school's underworld of drugs and crimes.
Even though it takes place in the modern day, the characters in Brick
all speak in an invented slang closely based off of vernacular speech in the '20s, '30s, and '40s. The high school social cliques match surprisingly well with traditional noir archetypes. Much like its inspirations (such as the noir classic, The Maltese Falcon
), one of Brick's main strengths is in its hard-boiled dialogue. The film also boasts excellent cinematography and strong performances.
This film provides examples of:
- Adults Are Useless: Played straight. The only adults we ever see on screen are the Vice-Principal, who depends on Brendan to tell him what's going on (see Da Chief, below) and the Pin's mom, who's either totally oblivious to her son's business or doesn't care. Laura's mom is there at the party, but we see just enough of her to make it clear that she's completely hands-off.
- Affably Evil: The Pin. After having Tug pummel Brendan for information, The Pin rewards Brendan's co-operation by having his mom make breakfast.
- Amateur Sleuth: Brendan Frye, who's too young to actually be the private eye he acts like.
- Anti-Hero: Brendan makes it clear from the beginning that he does things for his own purposes, not for the greater good.
- The Champion: In the backstory, Brendan Frye went to such lengths to protect his junkie girlfriend from cartels and drug rings so much she ended up breaking off their relationship and diving into the underground herself. Her death kicks off the movie.
- Chase Scene: When a junkie pulls a knife on Brendan.
- Chekhov's Gun: If you're not paying attention during the first five minutes of the movie, you miss a detail that will be extremely important later namely, the blue arrow on the cigarette thrown from the car.
- The Chessmaster: Laura, as the Big Bad. Brendan is a heroic example.
- Clothing Reflects Personality: Brendan has a jacket that comes off each time he loses control of his emotions, and his glasses seem to come off each time he expects to get "hit" either physically or emotionally.
- Co-Dragons: After Brendan becomes the mole, and ends up sharing the position rather quickly, acting as the brains to Tug's brawns.
- Combat Pragmatist: Brendan utilizes knee stomps, sucker punch haymakers, baseball slides from blind corners and even enemy infighting in order to see the case through.
- Cool Shades: Brendan wears them sometimes.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: There are several of these throughout the film, and a lot of different characters wind up on the receiving end. Not surprisingly, Tug perpetrates most of them, but every so often we see that Brendan can give as good as he gets.
- Da Chief: In this case, Assistant Vice Principal Trueman, played by none other than Richard Roundtree, aka... Shaft!
- Dead Hand Shot: An alternate poster and used prominently in the movie.
- Deadpan Snarker: Several characters, but Brendan is the most awesome:
Brendan: There's a thesaurus in the library, yeah's under "Y." Go ahead; I'll wait.
- And after Brendan beats him in a fight.
Random Girl: Was there a fight?
- Determinator: Brendan. He lets Tug beat the crap out of him, infiltrates a drug ring, and involves himself in a gang war all out of his love for Emily.
- Did They or Didn't They?: The scene near the end between Brendan and Laura was shot with the footage in the film, but then continued when he took off her shirt. Then the scene faded back in with them smoking and her putting it back on and rearranging her clothes. Word of God says they did, but he edited the film to leave the doubt because they wouldn't in the land of fiction.
- Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: Brendan in the Pin's kitchen, being given breakfast by the Pin's mom.
- Disposable Woman: Emily, whose death causes the plot.
- Disturbed Doves: When
- Down L.A. Drain: The film involved a murder that took place in a tunnel in the viaduct system.
- Dragon-in-Chief: Pin, while the mastermind behind the drug ring, is hopelessly outmatched when Tug attacks him.
- Downer Ending: Brendan gets revenge for Emily's murder, but what muddles up the whole situation is that Emily died with her unborn child and Brendan is heavily implied to be the father.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Tug, who isn't afraid to use his fists on a whim. Becomes much more literal when Dode, unknowingly threatening him, is promptly silenced with a beating then a bullet in the face.
- The Heavy: The Big Bad relies on Tug to perpetrate the crimes involved in this convoluted plot.
- High School: In addition to taking place in a high school, Brick was filmed in San Clemente High School, which the director once attended.
- Heroic BSOD/Heroic RROD: Brendan gets one of each. The latter is ongoing, and actually pretty disturbing in the implication of just how much internal organ damage he's dealing with.
- Hollywood Healing: Averted. The constant beatings that Brendan suffers take an obvious toll as the film progresses, leading to a Heroic RROD.
- How We Got Here: The movie starts with Emily's death and the whole plot revolves around Brendan discovering how she died.
- I Work Alone: Brendan's modus operandi.
- Nerd Glasses: Brain sports a classic pair. Brendan also wears glasses, but their style shows that he's not a nerd.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: A couple of times, always from Tug.
- Noodle Incident: What went down between Brendan and "Jerr" before the events of the film. Word of God is that Jerr was a drug dealer who started getting friendly with Emily. Brendan didn't approve of this, so he partnered up with Jerr in a dope racket and then set him up for Trueman. Emily didn't approve of such blatant meddling in her life, and that's what lead to the fight in the flashback.
- Not in This for Your Revolution: This is essentially Brendan's reply to the VP of Discipline at his school when the man tries to win his services.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Brain, the Pin, and presumably Tug
- Pay Phone: Averts the usual trope in which the protagonist walks by a mysteriously ringing phone, as Brendan answers phone calls at pay phones more often than he makes them. This appears to be idiosyncratic to him, as everyone else appears to have cell phones. Other characters use the pay phones so confidential calls won't show up on their phone bills.
- Police Are Useless: Averted. Brendan is keeping things quiet not because he doesn't think the police can catch Emily's killer, but because he wants to find "who put her in front of the gun." Towards the end he makes it pretty clear that the cops could have easily found Tug, and he plans to use them to roust the drug ring.
- Popular Is Dumb: Played straight with Brad Bramish, averted with Laura.
- Private Eye Monologue: Of course. This is a neo-noir, after all.
- Put Me In, Coach!: Brad Bramish has a stock anecdote involving this trope, no doubt embellished
- Riddle for the Ages: We might never find out what Laura whispered to Brendan. In a shooting script on his website, Rian Johnson reveals what Laura whispered at the end: Motherfucker, referencing the fact that Brendan and not Dode was the father of Emily's baby. This is a homage to the Dashiell Hammett short story, "The Girl with the Silver Eyes," which ends identically: "She put her mouth close to my ear so that her breath was warm again on my cheek, as it had been in the car, and whispered the vilest epithet of which the English language is capable."
- Shouldn't We Be in School Right Now?: A lot of the characters go to and from school, more or less at will.
- The chase scene is an obvious homage to Cowboy Bebop (Brendan even looks a bit like Spike). The shot of Laura coming out of a dark corridor is a reference to Blue Velvet.
- The line "Oh, now you are dangerous" is taken verbatim from The Maltese Falcon, as is the "long short long short" warning signal.
- And the convoluted structure owes itself to The Big Sleep, and Raymond Chandler's style in general.
- Smoking Is Cool: Several characters smoke, though they don't always smoke tobacco, which actually becomes a central plot-point in the climax.
- The Summation: Interestingly, Brendan gives it to the mastermind. Laura, natch! Then the mastermind offers a correction.
- Sympathy for the Devil: The Pin's a pretty bad character, but it's hard not to feel a little sorry for him. This is most apparent when he reaches out to Brendan, desperately seeking a friend.
- Thoroughly Mistaken Identity: Dode confronts Brendan, thinking he killed Emily when he was just moving her body, and notes he's going to tell the The Pin about it. Meeting with The Pin, Dode builds up his reveal by boasting it's someone close to him, completely oblivious that it was actually Tug who killed her; his smug attitude sends Tug into a rage, resulting in Dode being beaten and shot in the head.
- Totally Radical: Perhaps the strangest version of this in history. The characters are modern day teenagers who all speak like hardboiled characters in a Dashiel Hammett P.I. story.
- Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: Brendan. His first punch when fighting Brad not only involves sucker-punching him as he turns around, but he throws so much weight into it he ends up on the ground.
- Undercrank: In order to achieve the intense shots of the car bearing down on Brendan, the car was backed up slowly past the undercranked camera, then the film was reversed to give the impression of the car shooting towards the viewer.
- Unfamiliar Ceiling: Brendan wakes up in Laura's room this way.
- Unflinching Faith In The Brakes: Invoked, where Tug puts Brandon through a test of character by driving a fast-moving car just an inch away from running him over. Brandon doesn't get the "unflinching" part right but at least he doesn't jump away, which impresses Tug enough.
- Unstoppable Rage: This, plus a Hair-Trigger Temper, makes Tug into an extremely dangerous character. Even his employer is afraid of him.