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Director:Rian Johnson
Cast:Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Richard Roundtree
Release Date:2006
Genre:Drama, Noir, Crime

By Violet LeVoit | Posted 4/26/2006

Teen movie cheerleaders and film noir fatales alike bat their eyelashes and lie, so it’s not too bizarre to set a cold-blooded whodunit inside a California high school, where shaggy-haired shamus Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) slips his glasses case from his pocket instead of lighting a smoke when he needs something to do with his hands. Brendan’s druggie ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) made a mysterious, frantic phone call, using slang he’s never heard before—“brick,” “tug,” “pin.” Now, with the help of inside man Brain (Matt O’Leary), it’s up to Brendan to shake down the usual suspects—stoner Dode (Noah Segan), class princess Laura (Nora Zehetner), and sometimes-on-the-level Assistant Principal Trueman (Richard Roundtree)—earning a bloody nose in the process but at least never alarming his parents. In less sure hands this could be a putrid amalgam of Raymond Chandler parody and Encyclopedia Brown, but director Rian Johnson unsmirkingly sandwiches the crackling, jazzy lingo of vintage noir with deft visual revelations that allow us to watch the sordid drugs-and-dope-and-body-in-the-sewer trail gel at the same speed that Brendan susses it out, tiptoeing to a conclusion as cynical as anything James Ellroy can dish up. And then there’s Gordon-Levitt, who successfully sheds the last remnants of his comic actor training to reveal a bottomless talent for drama. Remember, Bogart was once considered wrong for the part, too.

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