I try to write occasionally when I get depressed, and you'd think doing something that often would make me half-way good at it. Not the case. When I do finally sling the ink, it's sparse and awful, but it nearly always encompasses three crucial elements. These would be dystopia, adolescence, and detective noir. I'm telling you all this because Brick, the critically lauded debut from writer/director Rian Johnson, is a clear amalgamation of the last two; or if you're feeling naughty then all three. After all, discounting science-fiction, our befuddled and brooding protagonist is just as emotionally disparate as Rick Deckard or John Murdoch, and the world he lives in is just as hot-blooded and ethically corrupt. Only this time, he's a teenager.
If the opening of the last paragraph was embarrassingly self-congratulatory, it's only because I'm fiendishly jealous of Rian Johnson. And if you've read anything about Brick, you'll know it's 2006's Donnie Darko. Whilst a certain amount of that writing is on the wall, Johnson is far less eager to please than Richard Kelly, and far less audaciously self-aware (at least not in the bad ways). Brick is a grown-up, potent and haunting piece of work: still zinging enough to wear the fresh-out-of-film-school badge with pride, unafraid to call attention to its economic inventiveness, and yet never haughtily so. It takes time to legitimise its intentions, and thus Brick is far more humble than Darko - it's not as self-catered for a legion of Taranteenies as one might expect. So sure the dialogue is wicked-smart, the music wily, and cinematography painstakingly beautiful; but the movie is hardly an accommodating one and deliberately so. If I were ever to write something like this, it could never be this eloquent, and with such little speech.
It's impossible not to mention Dashiell Hammett at this point, and even Twin Peaks. Clearly, Johnson wears his influences on his sleeve: Emily's alluded-to grubby downfall is similar to Laura Palmer's and more obviously our anti-hero Brendan is a quietly tough nut on the edge of cracking just like Sam Spade. Stylistically, though, Johnson empowers his actors and his screen with an independent vivacity. His world is a decidedly hyper-realistic and dispassionate one, but thankfully entrenched in a believable seriousness for the bonkos to ensue.
I've waited a long time to see Brick, a long time to find out who put Emily in front of the gun, and I cannot over-express my brutal satisfaction. Really very good.