Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Brick to the face. (An entirely positive review)

The most successful of films work with the strength of a certain type of rhythm.

A rhythm that is built within us, the audience, a strong connection between ourselves and the screen that allows us to ebb and to flow, to rise and to fall, the rhythm tiding us into the places that we need to be at any particular moment.

When the rhythm is controlled, the film may take hold.
When the rhythm is controlled, the message may be bold. The images may unfold, the strengths leave us cold. If the film works us the way that it should, with that particular rise, that particular fall; then we’re left with an experience that we may remember.

Rian Johnson’s “Brick,” is a film of many rhythms.

Rhythms made from constant images of peoples feet bringing us towards a new location. Rhythms made from the diabolical roar of an engine that’s clawing its way straight out of hell.
Rhythms made of footsteps, running, running, running like the wind away from the plodding pace of a man with a blade.
Rhythms made from lines of dialogue that alternate between stinging whip cracks and soft coos of spun silk.

Rhythms that work in and out. Working in smooth breaths that keep us constantly moving along with them. Some of these are figurative. Some are quite literal. In either case, the point is the point, the point being that we are there. If we let ourselves.

Because the trick of this matter is that we have to let it take us. We have to sit there, as the audience, silent and still. We have to let the world of the film pick us up with the strength of its metaphorical tides, with the gusts of its metaphorical breaths, with the very real power of its concepts and its characters. We have to want it. We have to accept this world that takes two things that are inherently familiar (high school and film noir) and melds them together towards an altogether new entity, one that confuses at first glance; but when taken in, makes more sense than you can possibly imagine.

When “Brick,” takes hold of us, everything that goes on up there -- every double cross, every right hook to the jaw, every dementedly clever word of dialogue -- everything feels perfectly right. It feels right. The rhythm feels right.


Because we know this place.

We know these people. These characters built upon the remnants of classical archetypes, these people who have the same snaky cool as a Bogart or a Greenstreet, without trying to be the very same as them. They aren’t the same, they aren’t aware of the roles that they’re playing. But they are playing roles. And because of that, they carry the weight, the strength, of all those roles that came before them. Working within a genre that is beloved by film buffs the world over, a genre that carries more rhythms within its dark shadowy recesses and twisted brains than any other of its peers.

“Brick,” has the sense to know its place.
It knows where it belongs. It belongs to a category of films made from desperation and distrust. Films that began during an era of world war, films that continued to exist during the period when the world was forced to rebuild itself from ruins. Films made to be smart, made to be aware, made to be cheap. A genre built on elegance borne of limitation.

Rian Johnson had limitations. A premise that was a hard sell even amongst those that got the point. A genre that has been largely distilled in recent years, usually only coming across in films based on comic books, comics that had been inspired by the films of the forties that were inspired in the first place by pulp crime novelettes. Not a lot of time, not a lot of money. But a lot of love. A lot of passion.

And yes, a great deal of elegance.

As a result of this elegance, we’ve been graced by something truly, truly special. A film that can be used to invite newer audiences to the classics that are neglected by the young, a film that works old clichés while building new styles, a film with a soundtrack that combines mournful trumpets and Anton Karas with electric guitar strings that remind me of “Once upon a Time in the West”. A film that -- perhaps somewhat inadvertently -- uses its setting to give us a metaphor for how important high school feels, even though in reality it meant nothing.

I love this movie.
But then again…does that mean that you will?
There is so much in this movie that can be loved. It features a foot chase that comes off with such impeccable timing that it almost feels like poetry. It features a beating that moves with a flurry of images and a pounding of violent drums, culminating with in single gunshot that hits with such a chilling fury that it sent shivers moving along my entire body. It features jokes that are made upon well intentioned absurdity, such as the antique lamp illuminating the back of the Pinivan (heh).

Words that sting and words that caress, moving with such a carefree cool that feels natural to the world that it belongs in. Words that you have to listen to. That will reward you if you do.

Will you be entranced by these salient images?

After all, despite the unquestionable strength of Johnson’s rhythms, they still don’t have the effortless perfection of something made by Chan-Wook Park. This film hits strongly, but it requires a desired involvement, meaning that you cannot just treat it like something that you flipped past on HBO during a lazy Sunday afternoon.

It takes effort to let it take you.
But if you know what it feels like to be hit by the strength of Samuel Spade’s shout, if you miss the era of expressionistic shadows and dutched camera angles, if you long for a time when screenwriters didn’t give a damn whether or not their dialogue actually sounded realistic…then you probably won’t mind the effort needed.

Not if you miss those days.

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