A promising debut from director Rian Johnson, this edgy and at times somewhat bizarre mystery drama may have been made on a low budget, but it still shines. Coming over a bit like a Dashiell Hammett novel, it adheres to film noir conventions, although it isn't set in the mean streets but the bright corridors of a high school.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in a good performance as high-school loner Brendan. When he finds the body of his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) in a storm drain, Brendan sets out to discover who was responsible for her murder and why. Aided by sidekick The Brain (Matt O'Leary) and the mysterious Laura (Nora Zehetner), Brendan follows various leads that the teachers and police can't pursue, enduring threats and beatings along the way.
There are tough and decorative dames, a crime lord with his own foibles, even an enigmatic know-it-all who sees everything and, when the trail goes cold, has that little piece of information to heat it up again. And if that wasn't enough, Johnson gives the cast their own language, using dialogue that sounds alien and yet seems appropriate for the situation.
Intriguing, and well worth watching.