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Film: Brick

The Brain: You think you can help her?
Brendan: No.
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, Brick 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.
  • 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.
  • Badass Boast: "Throw one at me if you want, hash head. I've got all five senses and I slept last night, which puts me six up on the lot of you."
  • Bond One-Liner: Brendan gets one in on Kara when he shoves her out of her dressing room in the buff.
    Kara: What are you doing?
    Brendan: Showing your ace.
  • The Brute: Tug. Seriously, do not so much as look at him funny if you like having teeth.
  • 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.
  • 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 defeats Jerk Jock Brad Bramish and Chuck Burns (the knife guy) through pragmatism.
  • 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:
    Brad: Yeah?
    Brendan: Yeah.
    Brad: ...Yeah?
    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?
    Brendan: Yeah.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Easter Egg: On the DVD Bonus menu, find and select the tunnel on the screen. If it gets a blue outline, click select, and you can watch a student film of Rian Johnson's called, "Ninja-Ko: The Origami Master."
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: A bittersweet one, at least. After getting beat to hell a couple times, getting in a half dozen fights, outsmarting another few folks high up on the food chain, and surviving the first shots of a potential gang war, Brendan finally gets to rest knowing that he punished the people that were behind Emily's murder.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Inverted, since Brendan does this by choice.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: The Pin, whose mom serves corn flakes and apple juice to him and his criminal associates.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Emily dies. Kind of a 'duh' statement considering the very first shot is of Emily lying facedown in a ditch.
  • Foreshadowing: In the beginning, when Emily calls Brendan she already mentions a girl who told her to deal with the brick. If you notice the cast, aside from Em, there's only one girl that's really involved in the action.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Brendan has Brain call the police and tell them drugs are in Tug's car. He's actually put Emily's dead body in the trunk.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking
    Brendan: You got a cigarette?
    Tug: I don't smoke.
    Brendan: I've seen you smoke.
    Tug: I don't smoke cigarettes.
  • 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.
  • The Ingenue: Subverted with Emily. Even though she is the main character's love interest and The Lost Lenore, it is soon revealed that she left him to date a drug addict, tried to join the inner circle of a prominent drug dealer, and had sex with the aforementioned drug addict and the dealer's head enforcer. All within a span shorter than three months.
  • Inverse Dialogue Death Rule: Subverted - Dode is a very important character. He gets the shit punched out of him and then is promptly shot in the face before he can get a word in edgewise.
  • Jerk Jock: Mostly played for laughs in the form of Brad Bramish.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dode, though his heart of gold probably has a few impurities.
  • Knowledge Broker: The Brain provides Brendan with intel on the situation at the school.
  • Lady in Red: Laura wears a red Qipao when Brendan meets her.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Hung immediately after the entry for Not in This for Your Revolution:
    VP Trueman: Fine. Very well put.
    Brendan: Accelerated English, Mrs. Kasperzyk.
  • Leitmotif: Particularly Laura and Em.
  • Light and Mirrors Puzzle: A rare non-video game use of this trope, Brendan is locked in a Creepy Basement and uses a mirror and a small stream of light to take stock of the whole area and find the 10th brick.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Brendan Frye is cool, and badass, and a perfect example of Determinator, but he eats lunch alone and the only two people who could possibly be called his friends are his ex-girlfriend and Brain, who serves as a sort of information broker. Brendan plays many sides against each other, and is not very well liked for it.
  • MacGuffin Title: The "brick" of the title is a heroin brick, the theft of which sets off the film's entire plot.
  • Masquerade Ball: Laura's "Halloween in January."
  • Meaningful Name: Tug has his strings pulled by the Big Bad to do most of the heavy lifting.
  • Men Don't Cry: Averted immediately prior to the climax of the film Brendan breaks down crying in Laura's arms.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Murder isn't exactly a minor crime, but Emily's death is entirely incidental to Laura's plan
  • Neck Lift: Tug to Brendan
  • 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.
    Brendan: I gave you Jerr to see him eaten, not to see you fed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Pin's mom is in the house only minutes before all hell broke loose; what happened to her during the climax and afterwards?
  • Wham Line:
    Dode: She was gonna keep it! It was mine, and you couldn't stand that! ...I loved her. And I woulda loved that kid. I'm gonna bury you.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Between Tug, Dode, and later Brendan.
  • Wild Teen Party: Inverted. Because this is a noir film set in a high school, the teen parties are classy cocktail affairs with live jazz.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Why are modern teens talking like hard-boiled PIs and femmes fatales? Hey, just roll with it.
  • Woman in Black: Kara wears a Stripperific black dress at one point and a long black robe later; not coincidentally, these are the scenes where she is the most manipulative. In a rather odd use of this trope, Laura is also wearing black when she sleeps with Brendan; on first viewing, this is the point when the viewer is mostly likely to find her sympathetic, but it's also immediately before she becomes responsible for the death of five people and her role in Em's death is revealed.

Kiss Kiss Bang BangMysteryFiction/FilmThe Black Dahlia
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alternative title(s): Brick
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