By: Trevor Chartrand
Big Gold Brick is the brainchild of writer/director Brian Petsos, whose first feature film comes fully-loaded with a surprisingly star-studded cast. Featuring Andy Garcia, Megan Fox, and Oscar Isaac, this surreal comedy-drama has its moments, but ultimately gets bogged down by a slow pace and a series of uneven tonal shifts.
The film features Emory Cohen as Sam, a suicidal writer who tries to rebuild his life after he’s hit by a car in the middle of the night. The driver of the car, the eccentrically wealthy Floyd (Andy Garcia), takes Sam into his home in an effort to clear his own conscience, and offers him a fresh start by hiring Sam to write his biography. However, the already unstable Sam now struggles with brain damage in addition to his many vices, and bizarre hallucinations and voices that threaten his sanity as he struggles to finish the book.
If movies came with a difficulty level, based on how easy they are to watch, Big Gold Brick would be rated ‘Very Hard’, and that has nothing to do with the shiny metal referenced in the film’s title. Sitting through this particular movie is no easy feat. Ambitious in its intent, Big Gold Brick ultimately suffers from a meandering narrative that will require a significant amount of patience from its viewers. While the final act of the film is its strongest, with a brisk pace and its narrative intrigue, getting to that point does prove to be challenging.
This ‘difficult viewing’ label is not helped by the film’s desperately quirky and surreal tone, which tends to feel contrived at times, drawing attention to itself and its zaniness. Loosely justified by Sam’s brain injury, the more surreal elements of the film are sometimes interesting, but can be clunky and disjointed. A story doesn’t have to be straightforward to work, but with narrative detours and visual flairs this uneven, the creative ideas seem to be less about realizing a filmmaker’s artistic vision, and more about saying, ‘look what I can do,’ to the audience.
The cast doesn’t save the movie, but these actors do bring a certain level of entertainment value to their roles. Emory brings a quiet chaos to his character, who’s just as timid as he is obnoxious. The performance, much like the film, can be uneven as a result. The bearded Andy Garcia in this film looks and acts like he’s been plucked directly out of a Wes Anderson movie, which works for the most part. The most disappointing cast member is Oscar Isaac, whose prominence on the film’s poster is a marketing trick – he is seldom featured in the film at all, and makes the confounding choice to chew the scenery with an indecipherable accent.
Overall, Big Gold Brick is an interesting experiment for Petsos, who’s clearly testing the waters and, I suspect, still working on discovering his own style. While the film’s pace and uneven tone does not make it easy to watch, the film ultimately features some great – if inconsistent – visual ideas and some decent comedic beats. The cast’s chemistry is strong as well.
If you have the patience for this kind of film, it is worth a watch; just be warned the titular Big Gold Brick just might be made from pyrite.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor