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Movie Review


MPAA Rating: R for violent and drug content

Reviewed by: Michael Karounos

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults, Teens
Drama, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Teen
1 hr. 50 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
March 31, 2006 (NY/LA), April 7, 2006 (limited), DVD: August 8, 2006
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
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Featuring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Meagan Good, Richard Roundtree, Lukas Haas, Nora Zehetner, Noah Segan, Noah Fleiss, Emilie de Ravin
Director: Rian Johnson
Producer: Ram Bergman, Mark G. Mathis
Distributor: Focus Features

“A detective story”

“Brick” is a daring experiment in filmmaking that targets a teenage demographic, but, similar to “L.A. Confidential” and “Pulp Fiction,” is photographed as a film noir. Like those films, and the whole range of earlier film noirs like “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Big Sleep,” and “Murder, My Sweet,” the world of “Brick” is an immoral one in which the protagonist tries to act as an agent of morality.

The movie has the usual character types: the private eye, Brendan (played outstandingly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt); the femme fatale, Laura, (Nora Zehetner); the ill-fated lover, Emily, (Emilie de Ravin of Lost); and a convincing villain with a possible mother complex called “The Pin” (played by Lukas Haas).

“Brick” opens with Emily (Brendan’s former girlfriend) both missing and in trouble. As Brendan searches for her, things, as they say, get complicated. A series of unfortunate events draw Brendan deeper into a sub-culture of drugs and violence. In true noir fashion, Brendan gets tangled with druggies, the local toughs, and the requisite predatory female. The convoluted trail leads Brendan through a series of experiences which challenge his integrity and resolve. His loyalty to Emily puts him in danger which defines his existence as a moral person. He could quit trying to solve the mystery of her disappearance and remain in one piece, or he could remain true to their past love and get beaten to a pulp. To Brendan’s credit, he chooses the latter.

The entire movie is an exercise in Brendan doing the right thing, always to his own detriment. He owes nothing to Emily—she left him; she chose to do drugs; she attached herself to a bad crowd, yet Brendan persists in trying to track her down.

During the course of the movie, even as things heat up, the emotions of the characters remain understated, cool, noirish. It is this quality that distinguishes “Brick” as a teenage film from teenage films that aren’t “Brick;” the ultimate attraction of the movie is that it portrays teenagers as adults. This is rare in teen movies today which typically portray teen emotions as bordering on hysteria when compared to the troubled maturity of teenagers in classics like “Rebel without a Cause,” “Splendor in the Grass,” or “West Side Story.” Contemporary films rely on crass sexual jokes, ridiculous characters, and sex to carry the story. “Brick” is brave enough to entertain through the development of its characters.

“Brick” has neither sexual situations nor stupid jokes, but instead shows teenagers (excepting the druggies) as serious individuals who make serious moral choices, both good and bad. What the movie doesn’t do is infantilize teens. It treats the milieu of high school as seriously as the old film noirs treated the cityscape of an urban environment. In doing so, it exacts higher expectations from the audience as well as from the actors.

Like those older movies, the action revolves around the development of character and not around car chases, special effects, or nude scenes. The writing is good, the acting is good, and the emotional payoff is gratifying. The ultimate end of a tragedy, Aristotle noted, is catharsis: a satisfying feeling one gets from seeing the world portrayed as a troubled place but with its moral order restored in the end. From now on it’s permissible to say that someone is “brick” when he or she is solid but not hard, passionate but not emotional, straight-up but not crude. Like “Brick.”

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This is not a Christian movie, by any means. It reminds me of why I am glad I find refuge in Christ from a zany, crazy, self-wounding world. Quite frankly, it allowed me to look at my zany, crazy, self-wounding past and chuckle, too. That alone made the movie entertaining. The movie is smart, engaging and has it’s humor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had a great performance. The twists and turns of the plot kept me intrigued. I would recommend this movie to mature Christians who have an interest in seeing the drama of the lives of those we should be witnessing to, without getting seduced by the drama. In this light the movie would simply be a reminder of why the un-saved need to be saved. But keep in mind, this movie deserves a sequel: not a sequel where the hero (Gordon-Levitt), smart and aloof, plods along “above the issues” of those around him.

The sequel should show the hero finally realizing he is not in control, his life is a mess, and he must surrender to his true God. The final scene provided the open door to this sort of sequel. I would definitely recommend this movie to young Christians to watch together to discuss the implications for ministry and why we are who we are in Christ. The movie undresses society, culture, and cliques and reduces them to their base elements. It makes the prospect of witnessing to the priviledged, the connected and the powerful a lot less intimidating. All this does not make the movie unique since we can get any of this from simply reading the old testament and nothing in the movie’s plot is new under the sun… BRICK simply gives the context of witnessing a contemporay feel. Final note on Gordon-Levitt: his talents reminds me of a younger Leonardo DiCapprio. My prayer is that both of these young men are brought closer to their God to serve His purposes with the gifts He has given them.
My Ratings: Average / 5
—David, age 41
Positive—Try to imagine a combination between “L.A. Confidential” and… “Napoleon Dynamite.” Seriously. I know, it’s a bizaar combo, but that’s how it’s like. It’s a full fledged Film Noir/detective/murder mystery based in high school. The active is impeccable, the directoring perfect, and the story amazing. I was blown away by this little movie. The vocabulary was a bit hard to follow, as the language, though English, is kind of a made up …by the writer. This movie isn’t for everyone, so I don’t recommend it to those who aren’t fans of the Film Noir. But if you’re up to an extremely intelligent movie, then try this one.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—Nathan R. Carlsen, age 25
Comments from young people
Positive—This is an excellent indie film. “Brick” is one of those movies that just seeps with cool, and the whole noir aproach to everything puts a clever new spin on the recent “suburbia’s not okay” fascination (namely, “Donnie Darko” and “The Chumscrubber”). This film is so much ABOVE most films out currently; the dialougue is, in my opinion, masterfully creative and blazzingly original. As one critic said, “Brick” is sure to, “warm the hearts of old movie goers and indie junkies alike.”
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Matt Wichlacz, age 15
Positive—With this movie there are something’s you gotta know. It is an indie film, film noir-esque (also known as neo-noir) and is a story of a tragic hero. Brendan is the focus of the film in his quest for the truth of his ex-girlfriends murder. The story acts out very much as you would expect a film noir, except the usual suspects are placed in the contemporized setting of Southern California High School. The femme fatale is the rich girl, the local mob boss a 26 year old with a drug outfit. If you want a film summary check Wikipedia, or IMBD, I will just go ahead and get down to the meat.

This film is not about Christians, nor do Christians appear. It shows deeply, and poignantly a broken world. There is some higher hope, but most is lost. If you have seen “Batman Begins,” or even the show “House M.D.” (some parts at least) you may know to some extent what I mean. Brendan is largely a tragic hero. A guy who is trying to find the truth about the one he loved (her death), but all along this guy is dying. I mean inside, he is in a world where there is no hope. This film shows why we can be thankful for something higher, more beautiful then the sad, broken selves that we are. Unfortunately, unlike many films there is no appearance of this hope. This is a sad tale and one hopes for there to be a resolution that could lead to something better (God, of course, being the eventual source and cause of this). This isn’t merely a complaint about a “unhappy ending,” but rather a very real look at the desperation of the world. When faced with the sheer amount of evil in the world and in our selves, when faced with deciding “Is it even worth it?,” there comes a time when we have to choose in desperation between Nilhism, and the Higher Hope* that is given to us.

Unfortunately, this film does not show the latter. Brendan sees everyone’s problems and you can tell it rips him up inside, but he does not let that out, he walks above everyone else’s problems.

Morally this film is what I would call generally clean. Minimal cussing, very little sexual problems (no perv jokes, and modesty is generally there in clothing, though there are references to teen pregnancy, it is not positively shown, just the reality). Brendan does lie several times, and the violence, while gruesome, is only used for showing the realistic consequences of being shot, and are very minimal instances of violence ect. (As in movies like “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” etc.)

So really most of the moral question centers on this Nilhism vs. Higher Hope. Though the Higher Hope is not present in this film, it is thought-provoking and is a good talking point about this idea. This sorta film mostly goes the right way, but does not come to the right conclusion. This does not make it a evil movie, or not worth a watch, but still does not go all the way. In fact, I think a more satisfying film would be the result of the inclusion of some hope and heroism. Worth a watch. Ask some questions.

P.S. And for Pete’s sake don’t take a five year old for this. This is a movie that is deep and thought provoking, and though relatively clean deals with topics that are confusing and very hard. It is probably good to have someone to talk to about it, discuss it with, and though I can see mature teenager handling it, this is not exactly a “family film.”

*I hope this idea is not to vague. What I am trying to say is it comes to the point where most people get when the realize the absolute worthlessness of the world, and the ever present evil. There are two paths. One that gives into the darkness and says “The world is worth nothing, I will give in” or the second which says “I will fight it, though I may not be able to change anything.” The first leads to despair, and the second, too, if there is no reliance on something higher (A hole which only God can fill). This choice is well shown in “Spiderman” when Spiderman faces this choice with Green Goblin:

Green Goblin: You’re an amazing creature, Spider-Man. You and I are not so different.
Spider-Man: I’m not like you. You’re a murderer.
Green Goblin: Well, to each his own. I chose my path, you chose the way of the hero. And they found you amusing for a while, the people of this city. But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail, fall, die trying. In spite of everything you’ve done for them, eventually they will hate you. Why bother?
Spider-Man: Because it’s right.
Green Goblin: [slaps Spidey on the head] Here’s the real truth. There are eight million people in this city. And those teeming masses exist for the sole purpose of lifting the few exceptional people onto their shoulders. You, me? We’re exceptional. [leans in and grabs Spidey’s neck]
Green Goblin: I could squash you like a bug right now, but I’m offering you a chance. Join me! Imagine what we could accomplish together… what we could create. Or we could destroy! Cause the deaths of countless innocents in selfish battle again and again and again until we’re both dead! Is that what you want? Think about it, hero! (source:

In the second movie, Spiderman rejects the mantle of hero due to the sheer weight of it. He eventually takes it up again when he realizes that though a hero must give his all, even his dreams and needs, it is the right thing to do.

A good example of this whole idea is the entire book of Ecclesiastes. “Futile! Futile! laments the Teacher, Absolutely futile! Everything is futile!” (quoted from The whole book reflects this idea and the conclusion of Solomon was (12:13), “Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: ‘Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.’” …That all it comes down to God, this choice between going with something better than the scum of the world, working the “impossible dream” as Don Quixote would say regardless of the evil in it, because only one thing matters, and that is following God.

This is all only possible when someone relies on something bigger, which in truth should be God. To not care if one will become beaten and scarred in order to do the right thing as long as the right thing is done requires a strong faith in “everything will be alright.” That there is something higher greater and stronger that we rely on. That there is hope. A Higher Hope.

My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—David French, age 15