April 18th, 2006


The San Clemente Op

If you are a fan of Dashiell Hammett, every minute that you spend not having seen Rian Johnson's film Brick is a minute of your life thrown away.

On Friday, gracefuleigh, kaynorr, his_regard, gnosticpi, heathey, and myself saw it at the Landmark (convenient to the all-you-can-eat fish-and-chips at the Duke of Perth) and holy jumping cats was it good. (his_regard and I had meant to see it at the Chicago Film Festival last year, but the timing didn't work out or something, so I've been eagerly anticipating its wider release ever since.)

For those who aren't au fait with the indie film scene, Brick is a Dashiell Hammett novel (not any specific Hammett novel, just "a Dashiell Hammett novel") set in a San Clemente high school; the Sam Spade character is Brendan Frye, a high school student. The dialogue (in an invented patois of teenage slang and Bogart argot) and editing were as good as it is possible for two things to be; the acting, score, and direction only slightly behind that. Richard Roundtree's cameo as the assistant vice-principal is especially good, as is Lukas Haas, who achieves near-Sydney-Greenstreet levels of unbelievable credibility as "the Pin." The tone is perfect -- no sign of self-awareness, no sign of ironic detachment by the auteur. There are people who will complain about the washed-out palette, about the occasionally cruel humor, about the grimy morals of the main character, about the near-nihilistic tone, about the obvious answer to the mystery (obvious to those who know their Hammett anyway, which is to say obvious to the vast majority of the intended viewing audience). Those people deserve our understanding, but not our sympathy.

And it ends with the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" playing over the credits, a perfect Dominican cigar after the best diner meal of your life.