YOUR GUIDE TO: Brick (2005, dir. Rian Johnson)

8 Aug


“Ain’t bodies got a right to be curious?”

For those that loved:

Pulp Fiction, Magnolia, Layer Cake, Donnie Darko

For those that are writing on:

Adolescent cinema, representations of masculinity (and femininity) in contemporary film, noir, neo-noir or suburban noir, construction of the self (many philosophical possibilities arise from the relationship between Brain and Brendon)

In a nutshell

Drugs, thugs, scheming dames and noir intrigue set amongst a Sunny suburban landscape. Expect heavy lashings of teenage angst; this is Sam Spade, the junior years.


After receiving a frantic call from his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), teenage loner Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) must unravel the mystery that surrounds her disappearance. Inserting himself into an underground drug ring lead by the scheming Pin (Lukas Haas), with the help of his seemingly only friend Brain (Matt O’Leary) Brendan is determined to “make Em’s troubles mine” until he can uncover the truth.

Why should I watch?

In the strangely parent-less world of Brick, kids converse in hipster noir lingo that seems to be at odds with the sun-streaked suburban locale. The usually banal high school setting is inflected with an eerie seriousness, as are the characters that inhabit this bleak landscape.

An intricate murder mystery is slowly unravelled by the unflappable man-with-a-plan Brendan and while the story is perhaps familiar ground for anyone even vaguely familiar with the noir tradition, it is a story worth telling.

Solid performances are delivered by a relatively unknown cast; Gordon-Levitt in particular shines as Brendan. Having escaped the hell of child stardom (he played Tommy in 90s sitcom ‘Third rock from the Sun’), Gordon-Levitt seems only a few more wise character choices away from indie-to-mainstream, Gyllenhaal-styled stardom (hello, (500) days of summer?).

The almost Western styled guitar strains that echo throughout Brick add to the intence, haunted feel of the film and further emphasise the care put into this production. A promising first feature from director-to-watch Rian Johnson, Brick is the kind of intricate film that benefits from repeat viewings.

Consider/Further Study etc

  • In what ways does Brick resemble classic noir? In what ways does it subvert noir conventions to present a contemporary suburban image of film noir?
  • Film noir is often suggested to be a ‘cinema of paranoia’. In what ways is this reflected within Brick?
  • Consider the last scene that takes place between Brendan and Brain. Without wanting to give too much away, notice Brain’s last path of movement. What might this suggest about his relationship with Brendan?
  • Emily, Kara and Laura all embody vastly different representations of femininity. In what ways are these characters similar to the classic femme fatale archetype? In what ways do they differ?
  • Throughout Brick, Kara is shown in many different costumes, each creating a distinctive representation of femininity. What might this suggest about contemporary understandings and constructions of femininity, and the normative understandings of femininity?
  • In the final exchange between Brendan and Laura, she whispers a “dirty word”. What might this suggest about the representation of masculinity within Brick?

Further Reading

  • Oliver, Kelly and Trigo, Benigo, 2003, Noir Anxiety, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press
  • Tasker, Yvonne, 1998, ‘New Hollywood, New Film Noir and the Femme Fatale’, in Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema, London, New York, Routledge
  • Telotte, J.P., 1989, Voices in the Dark: the Narrative Patterns of Film Noir, Urbana, University of Illinois Press

One Response to “YOUR GUIDE TO: Brick (2005, dir. Rian Johnson)”

  1. Chris2269 September 30, 2009 at 7:49 am #

    One of my top 5 favorite films. This is the first film I saw Joseph gordon-Levitt in after he left TV and who knew he would turn into one of todays best actors IMO. He was very good in The Lookout as well. I will be watching The Brothers Bloom today on pay per view, this is the same directors second film interested to see it.

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