Los Angeles Times

Filmmakers Know 'Brick' Could Have Sunk


There's a sentiment shared by many of the people who worked on "Brick" -- if things hadn't gone right, the movie could have gone very wrong.

"It was especially difficult because the central conceit of it is so weird and it's the type of thing where it's very possible, in the script form... to read it and imagine how it could be done and just be absolutely horrible, just be unbearably bad -- film noir in high school, a bunch of teenagers doing Bogart impressions," says writer-director Rian Johnson.

Johnson wrote "Brick" script in 1997, but the movie didn't begin production until 2003 because its premise -- a high school detective movie in which the teen characters talk like exiles from a Hammett novel -- was a tough sell.

"'Does it have to be in high school and did they have to talk like that?' were the two big things," Johnson laughs, remembering the notes he'd get from semi-interested executives. "The answer for me was, 'If you take out those elements, you can just go rent 'The Maltese Falcon.'"

Even the actors who ultimately signed on weren't sure how "Brick" would work.

"I remember thinking, 'If we don't nail this just right, it's gonna look really silly,'" recalls Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Brendan, the film's main amateur gumshoe. "But that's part of it. It's like, 'Well, let's try.' The script was there. I knew that from the very first time I read it. I had no doubt that the words were right, it's just a question of, 'Can we figure out how to get it on its feet?' Sure, I had plenty of doubts."

Joining Gordon-Levitt ("Mysterious Skin") in the film is Emilie de Ravin, best known as new mother Claire on ABC's "Lost."

"I was little bit thrown off -- you're not expecting that," de Ravin says of her first impressions. "The second time reading it, I just really enjoyed it. It was so smart and witty and the fact that it's a film for young people that's actually intelligently written, that's real and gritty and down-to-earth and that so many kids will relate to and older people as well."

Although the antecedents for "Brick" are obvious, Johnson specifically kept his cast away from those earlier hard-boiled crime films.

"I did not watch any of the film noir movies while we were watching 'Brick,' because the whole point of setting it in high school was to get out from under those movies," Gordon-Levitt says. "There are so many movies and there are so many good ones that we didn't want to be compared to them."

"Brick" premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, winning a special jury prize. Johnson knows that its originality "Brick" will polarize viewers but at this point, he's just glad people are seeing the film.

"I enjoy hearing from people who really dug the movie," Johnson says. "I also enjoy hearing from people who completed hated the movie. It's fun for me to hear it bounce off different people and hear an opinion that's not my own."

"Brick" is now in limited release.

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