Settling the Score
This is my entry into the Filmmusic Blog-A-Thon over at Windmills of My Mind. Go on over to the hub for some great score talk.
One of the first things that I said after walking out of Brick was "Damn, that was a good score." The score and the editing are the two major successes of Brick, but the latter is a matter for another post. One of the great things Brick does is use film cliches to inform the viewer of any particular drama in the film. The prime examples of this are Tug's Theme, Laura's Theme, and The Pin's Theme.
Laura's Theme tells you everything you need to know about her. A silky piano tune reminds the character of the beauty and charisma of Phyllis Dietrichson, Kathie Moffat, or Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Where Fargo and Chinatown shun film noir archetypes, Brick embraces them, giving us a clear picture of the sort of character Laura will be. The ultimate piece to Laura's puzzle is the instrument Laura's Theme is played on. Instead of a simple piano, Laura's Theme is played on what sounds like a cheap Casio. Laura lacks any sort of class. Deep down, under the thin veneer of charm and grace, she's as much a two-bit criminal as anyone else in the film.
Tug's Theme takes a more classical influence than Laura. Consisting of only a deep bass, Tug's short temper and violence are portrayed like in Peter and the Wolf. It's a classical device that shows the viewer Tug's stereotypical character and allows him to break free of that molding. Tug's Theme melds perfectly with The Pin's Theme, showing the two's initial unity.
Though I love Laura's theme, it's The Pin's Theme that truly tickles me. A Godfather-esque trumpet declares his status, and his inevitable future. The high trumpet playing over Tug's low bass show completely different styles, but a harmony that can only come from two people realizing how badly they need each other. With The Pin as the brains and Tug as the brawn, they rule the city's crime ring. As a crime head in a noir detective story, The Pin can have only two fates: arrest or death. However, we can tell every time we hear that trumpet that they'll never take The Pin alive. His fate is a betrayal, not unlike if Michael Corleone had been killed near the beginning of The Godfather Part II when Fredo betrayed him.
The climax of the film comes as The Pin and Tug come to a final fight. The soundtrack, other than the sounds of fighting upstairs, consists of only the bass and the trumpet, both extremely chaotic, as if fighting for the viewer's attention. Though it is the trumpet which is more easily noticeable, the bass ultimately prevails through sheer force.
Brick is a true marvel in the modern cinematic landscape. It is a loving homage to Dashiell Hammett with a completely modern way of telling the same story. Sometimes it takes directly from the 40's noir of its birth, and sometimes it borrows liberally from those inspired by that time. But whatever it's using, it uses it well. A western guitar plays as we're first introduced to Brendan, our lone star hero; a violent bass for Tug; a fake piano for Laura and a trumpet for The Pin all set up the characters using our own knowledge of film so that these characters can color outside the lines. You couldn't ask for more from a film like this.