Brick (2006)

Directed by Rian Johnson

After a phone call from his ex-girlfriend, teenage loner Brendan Frye learns that her dead body was found. Vowing to solve her murder himself, he must infiltrate high-school cliques that he previously avoided. His search for the truth brings him before some of the school’s roughest characters.

First films from tyro directors are a bit of a puzzle. Despite their ravenously well-read cinephilia (and their subsequent fresh insight into the art of cinema), new directors don't seem to have noticed the common threads that blight first-time attempts to make a film... and therefore avoid them in their own work. That is to say, you would think the pitfalls would be so observable to them that, with the talent that they quite clearly possess, they would quite easily be able to eschew them.

Yet that is not quite the case, both in Brick and elsewhere: the bravado camera work often distracts more than it informs; the immoderately-layered plot that bespeaks of innumerable revisions since they first had the idea when they were seventeen; the tone leaning too much on a specific urban or suburban geography (likely the home of the filmmaker themselves); a surfeit of ideas in general; and the multiple meta-cinematic references to other movies, both nods to specific films of the past as well as to the very concept of generic expectations.

All this makes it sound like I didn't like Brick, but that's not quite right at all. Yes, it's true that I didn't love it, but it's not exactly the film for me, not least because I found it quite difficult to follow and, well, I didn't grow up anywhere near a US high school so that the ironic distance between the 'real' US high school experience and the one presented here lacks a personal resonance. Still, on that little bit of genre cleverness, I will say that it is curious how injecting a noir sentimentality into the high school milieu fails to demonstrate that film noir is 'childish', but rather that the ethical, moral, and educational stakes at a high school are not trivial in the least.