“I got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you!”
Directed By: Rian Johnson
Written By: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Emilie De Ravin, Lukas Haas, Richard Roundtree
Yes! It’s finally happened! I cannot find anything to complain about in this film. Nothing! So rather than my usual string of sarcasm, slander and word bile, I will instead be writing less a review and more of a blatantly one-sided essay on why this film is practically perfect, and I might even get so carried away as to write a love song to the movie at the end…Maybe.
The reasons for my unconditional love towards this movie are simple: it has a unique vision, a good script, great characters and a strong central performance. Now if only every movie could have those qualities…actually no, scratch that, that would make life very boring. Bad movies exist to let the great ones rise above the steaming pile of excrement that is the modern day film industry.
The film begins with a wonderfully composed shot of the story’s hero, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), kneeling next to the body of a dead girl (Emilie De Ravin). A lmost immediately the wonderful musical score kicks in, a mixture of modern musical instrumentation with a 1940’s feel. The girl is revealed to be Brendan’s ex as the action rewinds to two days prior to her death. She tries to get in touch with Brendan because she is in some kind of trouble and needs help. Brendan is suspicious as they haven’t spoken for months, and he is determined to investigate further. This sets him off on a labyrinthine chain of events to uncover her killer and the true story behind what happened and why.
The classic detective story has been done many times before, and better to be sure, but to me, what makes this film so much fun is the gimmick of the whole thing. Normally I’m against ridiculous gimmicks as I think they take away from the story, but this one works. It sets its murder mystery in a high school, where all of the kids talk like hard-boiled characters from classic film noir’s like ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or ‘The Big Sleep’. The trick is, director Johnson never lets his actors feel like they’re being silly. They’re each committed to these characters and take everything they say very seriously, there’s no winking at the camera or going for any kind of laugh. And because the actors believe what they’re saying, so do we as an audience.
The dialogue is easily my favourite part of this film. The words pour from the actors mouths so fast and sometimes in strange slangs from decades past that it takes a second viewing to decipher the literal meaning behind all the words. Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan like a descendant of Sam Spade: world weary, callous, but still knows what is right. He gets some of the best lines, like the quote from the top of the page, and he delivers them with ferocity and conviction. My personal favourite scene is the conversation between Brendan and the Assistant Vice Principal of the High School played by Richard Roundtree, where they discuss the trouble Brendan might be in and the possibility of getting protection from the faculty. The teachers and faculty are looked upon more as police like authorities rather than educators, and Roundtree is fantastic in the few moments of screen time he has.
The movie was shot on a very limited budget with the director shooting at his old high school on weekends over a few months, and sometimes this lack of money shows, but in a good way. The scenes are never cluttered with more than what is necessary: extra’s are kept to a bare minimum, the high school seems deserted for most of the run time which I felt gave the audience a true loner perspective and thus revealing Brendan’s own isolation. I never felt that the low budget ever detracted from the story or quality of the film.
At the end of the adventure, when all the loose ends are being tied up, there is a slight feeling that not everything actually makes sense, but I think this is okay: we don’t watch film noir to know the ending, it’s how you get there and the people you meet on the way that makes it so fascinating. This movie is a brilliant reminder of just how cool you can be if you can talk fast and punch hard.
The strange vocabulary may alienate some viewers and it makes this movie difficult to find its audience (I mean is there really a huge demographic for film noir junkies anymore? Do many modern day audiences even remember ‘The Maltese Falcon’?). It really is quite far-fetched and some might say that beneath the gimmick of a high school noir, there isn’t much substance. Those people would be right, there isn’t much substance, BUT there is sooooo much style and in this case it more than makes up for it.
And now, my love song:
Oh Brick, you were a wonder to behold
Your cast was made of solid gold
Gordon-Levitt came from 3rd Rock
And now we see it wasn’t just luck
Rian Johnson you were the bomb
How could I have thought you made ‘Brothers Solomon’????
That’s really embarrassing for me
Thanks to James for making me see
Oh how could I have possibly overlooked it
Ah well, it’s just a silly poem, fuck it
Oh Brick, you were lovely for a while
Thank you for stalling my word-bile
O Brick, O Brick
I love you