Noir meets reality

Notes on: Brick (Laurie Dix)

Brick is about the closest thing you will get to a modern noir, and one of my favourite films.

It takes what we recognise as tropes of noir, and makes it relevant and modern.

The story follows Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he investigates a cryptic message left for him by his ex-girlfriend Laura.
After following a few clues, it does not take Brendan long to be absorbed into a dark criminal underworld, where he comes face to face with some rather unsavoury characters.

Brick uses the traditional slow cross fades in between locations, and relies heavily on lighting and colour to express mood and atmosphere. The differences between Brick and the traditional Noir are slim, but important. Traditional noir, being made in the 40’s, adhered to the rules set out by cinema at the time. Nowadays, the rules have changed in terms of how to make a film, and so, to prevent the film from seeming to be ‘badly made’ or ‘old hat’, Brick combines some modern elements of filmmaking with some elements of 40’s cinema.

(N.B. There can be some argument that ‘Brick’ does not count as a Noir, but more similar to ‘Hard-Boiled’, but the line is so fine it counts as a noir for all intents and purposes.)

“Traditional Noir Tropes”

  • Slow cross dissolves between locations
  • A ‘Femme Fatale’ character
  • Emphasis on lighting (rather than the cinematographer using light as their main medium, the emphasis is on shadow).
  • A mystery
  • The ‘Antagonist’ being a ‘Mobster’ (who earned his power due to controlling contraband, traditionally this would have been alcohol, in this modern equivalent, it is drugs)
  • Suspects
  • A body
  • The ‘Jazz’ influence
  • An unrealistic and overly stylistic script
    (One of my favourite lines is;
    Brendan is on the verge of being attacked by some stoners. After punching one of them in the face, another begins to approach, he turns to him and says:
    “Throw one at me if you want, hash-head. I still have all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you.”)

Modern Elements

  • Young cast
  • Modern editing/Quick edits
  • Drugs influence
  • The American High School back drop
  • Modern cinematography (in terms of angles)
  • A lot of elements have been modernised simply due to the access to more modern equipment. In order to analyse exactly how else is ‘modernises’ aspects of film, one would have to examine how cinema has evolved over the past seventy years, which is a subject too big for this blog post.

Brick is a wonderful film, stylistic and cool, and does the ‘Noir’ genre a lot better than I could ever hope to do. It also has the benefit of being nearly two hours long, over which time you can built an intriguing story. It cannot be done quite as well over ten minutes, and in my opinion, ‘Noir’ stories need time to draw you in. They are a slow process, and one that cannot be accurately represented in a short time.


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