‘Brick’ to close Film Society’s ‘noir’ series

NEW ULM — The New Ulm Film Society’s film noir series comes to a close with the 2005 film “Brick.”

The screening starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, at the New Ulm Public Library.

“Brick” is one of the most original film noirs made. Instead of following a police detective or private eye, the film follows a loner high school student named Brendan played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Brendan is investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. He suspects she might be involved with a bad crowd, but which crowd and how bad is it?

Brendan is forced to maneuver through various high school cliques ranging from the popular jocks and drama club to the nerds and bullies. Further complicating things, the assistant principal is breathing down Brendan’s neck, demanding answers. The further Brendan investigates, the more dangerous it gets.

Depending on the audience’s perspective “Brick” can be seen as a film noir, a high school drama, a film parody or all three. It is usually labeled a noir because the influence is unmistakable. At first glance, the setting and characters might seem like another genre, but replace the various high school groups with gangs and the assistant principal with the chief of police and the similarities with noir are easy to see and hear.

“Brick” sounds like a classic film noir. The language of the film is steeped in the original noir films of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The main characters are kids at a suburban high school in the early 21st-century, but they speak like characters out of Dashiell Hammet novels. The slang is so over the top that on initial release, some movie theaters needed to give audiences a cheat sheet to understand the dialogue.

The modern setting mixed with anachronistic dialogue creates a story out of place with reality. For this reason, some critics call “Brick” a parody of a film noir, but the purpose of using film noir techniques is not to tell a realistic story but to express an emotional truth.

“Brick” is not a documentary about what happens in high school, it is a film about what it feels like to be in high school. Emotions are heightened and the world seems bigger and scarier. Normal high school drama is a high stakes game where only the strong survive.

Film noirs have always portrayed an exaggerated version of the real world. The plots are absurd and often hard to follow. The setting is always ominous with high contrast lighting. The characters are over the top and larger than life.

“Brick” has taken these themes to the logical conclusion. The plot goes from a disagreement between a boyfriend and girlfriend and slowly spins into a life or death struggle involving everyone in the school.

The cinematography of the film takes a typical suburban setting and reimagines it to appear sinister. A water aqueduct is lit to look like an empty abyss that can conceal anything or anyone. These visual cues were borrowed from “Chinatown.”

Writer and Director Rian Johnson created the film out of his love for hardboiled detective novels. He wanted to make a similar film, but to avoid directly copying those stories he set “Brick” in high school to keep it unique.

“Brick” was an independent film made on a limited budget, but it turned a profit and received positive praise from critics. Its success allowed Johnson to release other films and has become a top director in the film industry. He most recent film, “Knives Out,” is another homage to the detective genre.

“Brick” is the last movie in the New Ulm Film Society’s Film Noir series and it is a fitting end. The movie represents a decade’s long legacy that continues in films today.