A modern-day version of 1940's hard-boiled novels fashioned by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett is a teen noir mystery with bite.
Brick moves the crime fiction into the high school and neighborhoods of southern California, making for one strange, yet mesmerizing risk-taking picture. It's not about the mimickry of characters and situations of memorable stuff like the "Maltese Falcon". Some of the piercing aura of Sin City is felt here as debuting director and scenarist Rian Johnson nearly flies off the handle with his gritty pervasiveness.
But, there's an intriguing vacillation of the verbal panache from the days of Bogart and the production that heightens a genre during Hollywood's Golden Age. Johnson is able to make this material bracing and witty because of the way he angles his youthful cast into fresh noir territory.
The lean Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin) is quite riveting as teen outsider Brendan who becomes impassioned after ex-amorata and troubled Emily (Emilie de Ravin of TV's "Lost") vanishes and her corpse turns up near a sewer.
Brendan acts like a Bogie detective with the aid of his only true peer and friend, The Brain (Matt O'Leary), while keeping the assistant vice principal (Richard Roundtree) barely briefed while his single-minded quest gets increasingly treacherous.
Rich-girl sophisticate Laura (Nora Zehetner) and seductive Kara (Meagan Good) prove to be alluring, bright dames. And, the substance-abusing Dode (Noah Segan) gets a good going-over. There's a killer scene set in a parking lot that has Brendan acting as a bull-fighter.
The secret investigation will lead Brendan into the menacing orbit of non-student, drug-dealer known as the Pin. Lukas Haas goes a long way from his sweet childhood acting days in this eerie role. Encroaching the Pin's dark livelihood entails some dark truthful revelations that gives Johnson's web a perilous luster. The maguffin of the title plays into the moody, sometimes off-kilter mystery tour with intensity that oddly gels into the crime and punishment sensed so strikingly by Gordon-Levitt, unearthing a vast, disparate social strata.