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Film / Brick

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Brendan Frye: 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?
Brendan Frye: No.
The Brain: You think you can get the straight? Maybe break some deserving teeth?
Brendan Frye: 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 written and directed 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 in the process.

A defining element Brick adapts from its inspirations (such as the noir classic The Maltese Falcon) is its hard-boiled dialogue. Even though it takes place in the modern day, the characters in Brick all speak in an invented slang closely based on vernacular speech in the '20s, '30s, and '40s. The fact that traditional high school social cliques match surprisingly well with traditional noir archetypes is a certain plus as well.

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, and the Pin's mom, who's either obedient or 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.
  • Animal Motifs: The Pin has Eagles adorned in statues on his mailbox and in his study and his cane’s handle is shaped like a duck's head.
  • Animesque: The film is created with the same shot composition and editing an anime would have. Brendan has the look of a Spike Spiegel expy.
  • Anti-Hero: Brendan makes it clear from the beginning that he does things for his own purposes, not for the greater good.
  • Awesome by Analysis: Brendan. His greatest asset is his ability to pay very close attention to certain details and draw logical conclusions.
  • 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."
  • Badass Bookworm: Brendan, who divides his time between kicking ass and doing research.
  • Basement-Dweller: The Pin, who runs a drug smuggling empire from his mom's basement.
  • Big Bad Friend: Laura acts like Brendan's new love interest throughout the film, but she's really the final villain.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Brendan rides the line between hero and villain but the Big Bad is a real piece of work.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Overlaps with Downer Ending. Brendan gets his revenge and comes away with only a few cuts and bruises, but his pursuit doesn't bring him closure, and even sees several people (Dode included) getting killed in the process.
  • 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.
  • The Chanteuse: Laura. Although she doesn't sing, she does recite a poem (the lyrics to "The sun whose rays are all ablaze" from The Mikado) while playing the piano for her party guests.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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!
  • Dame with a Case: Played with. Femme fatale Emily calls her high school ex, Brendan, panicking about the "brick" that was "bad". When she's found dead in a storm drain, Brendan is on the case to find out what happened to her.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: An alternate poster and an image 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 Brad in a fight:
    Random Girl: Was there a fight?
    Brendan: Yeah.
  • Deconstructive Parody: Of Film Noir and hard-boiled detective fiction; this would become a specialty of Rian Johnson.
  • 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: Pigeons fly out of the viaduct when Tug kills Dode.
  • Down L.A. Drain: The film involved a murder that took place in a tunnel in the viaduct system.
  • The Dragon: Tug is the Pin's chief enforcer.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Pin, while the mastermind behind the drug ring, is hopelessly outmatched when Tug attacks him.
  • Dumb Muscle: Tug is no thinker but beats up everyone he fights.
  • 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.
  • Enemy Civil War: Pin has a falling out with Tug over Dode's murder.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: The Pin, whose mom serves corn flakes and apple juice to him and his criminal associates.
  • Evil Cripple: The Pin, who uses a cane.
  • Evil Is Petty: After the Big Bad is outed in the last scene, they make one last play to cut into Brendan.
    • Curtis, a junkie with a knife, attacks Brendan halfway through the movie. While it first looks like it might be the Pin or Dode, Brain reveals at the end he was hired by Brad after his fight with Brendan.
  • Expy: Laura is one of Brigid O'Shaughnessy from The Maltese Falcon.
  • Femme Fatale:
    • Laura Dannon, who attempts several failed passes at Brendan, who knows better than to trust her off the bat.
    • Kara, an drama club ex-girlfriend of Brendan's, is a more upfront example as her manipulative nature and use of sexuality to make boys (particularly freshmen according to Brendan) into her lapdogs is something Brendan is well aware of from the start of the movie.
  • Film Noir: The name of the game.
  • 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.
  • Guile Hero: Brendan. He can handle himself in a fight, but his wits are his real weapon. He brings down the Pin's organization by manipulating events so Tug ends up turning on him.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Practically a defining trait for 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.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Brendan. Also the other characters fall into the archetypes of the hardboiled genre.
  • The Heavy: The Big Bad relies on his lackey, 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.
  • How We Got Here: The movie starts with Emily's death and the whole plot revolves around Brendan discovering how she died.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Out of nowhere, the Pin strikes up a conversation with Brendan about J. R. R. Tolkien, showing how desperately lonely he is.
  • 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.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Played straight with Dode, who falls dead immediately. Subverted with a random mook, however, who manages to stumble into a room full of characters and explain the last brick has been stolen before finally dying.
  • Inverse Dialogue Death Rule: Subverted, as Dode is a very important character who gets the shit punched out of him and is promptly killed before he can get a word in edgewise.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Tug, who spends a few scenes simply asking Brendan a question, and then hitting him when he doesn't like the answer.
  • 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, the Femme Fatale, wears a red Qipao when Brendan meets her.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Hung immediately after the entry for Not in This for Your Revolution:
    Ass. 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.
  • Longing For Fiction Land: The Pin really wishes he could live in Middle-earth.
  • MacGuffin Title: The "brick" of the title is a heroin brick, the theft of which sets off the film's entire plot.
  • 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.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: Tug puts a gun in his waistband.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Tug is one of the shorter male characters in the film, yet he's the toughest character. His nickname seems to refer to a tug boats, which are small but can move around much larger boats.
  • 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 the perpetrator, Tug, and he plans to use them to roust the drug ring.
  • Playing Both Sides: Laura plays all sides. Brendan also utilizes this to get closer to the truth.
  • Pragmatic Evil: The Pin is really unhappy with how much unnecessary violence Tug keeps perpetuating in their business. After Tug kills Dode, The Pin decides he's gone a bridge too far and cuts him loose.
  • 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.
  • Rich Bitch: Laura lives in a mansion and drives a classy muscle car. Even the Pin, by comparison, lives in a modest one story suburban house with a small van as his transportation.
  • 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, although most of the film is set outside of school hours.
  • Shout-Out:
    • 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.
    • The sequence where Brendan speaks to Kara while she's wearing thick white stage makeup refers to Once Upon a Time in America.
    • And the convoluted structure owes itself to The Big Sleep, and Raymond Chandler's style in general.
    • The Pin's coat and cane make him look like Barnabas Collins.
  • Sidekick: The Brain helps Brendan as a friend out but doesn't get involved.
  • The Smart Guy: The Brain. Brendan is pretty smart too, though.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: Brendan, the detective of the story, wears glasses. Brain wears Nerd Glasses to show that he's also smart, but not a man of action.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: It's not entirely clear if they did have sex but Emily is shown in bed smoking with Brendan. It becomes a major plot point.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Several characters smoke, though they don't always smoke tobacco, which actually becomes a central plot-point in the climax.
  • The Sociopath: After Dode is killed, Brendan goes to Kara who is sobbing uncontrollably over it. Once she shoos her freshman lapdog away (who was offscreen up until that moment), she immediately stops crying and taunts Brendan about the situation. The complete lack of humanity pushes Brendan to break her mirror and throw her out of her dressing room undressed.
  • The Starscream: Laura has been sabotaging the Pin's drug operation so he and Tug could eventually turn on each other and she could take over the operation. She nearly succeeds, but Brendan turns her into the VP before she can enjoy her victory.
  • The Summation: Interestingly, Brendan gives it to the mastermind. Laura, natch! Then the mastermind offers a correction.
  • Sunshine Noir: It's set in sunny San Clemente, California, and even though it's set in January, Brick is still probably one of the most brightly lit noir films ever made.
  • 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.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Most of the characters in the film are very amoral teens.
  • 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: Inverted, and perhaps the strangest version of this trope in history. The characters are modern day teenagers who all speak like hardboiled characters in a Dashiel Hammett P.I. story. Hilariously justified by the fact that Mrs. Kasprzyk, a "tough but fair" teacher, is teaching this manner of speech in "Accelerated English" classes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Vamp: Kara and Laura.
  • Watching the Sunset
  • 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.
  • Wham Shot: Laura's cigarette while in bed with Brendan has the same blue arrow on the cigarette of the driver that spooked Emily at the start of the story.
  • 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.