Rian Johnson (Looper) here infuses a story of a high school student investigating his ex-girlfriend’s murder with the language and attitude of the hardboiled noir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his co-stars continuously interrogate and bounce off one another with stylised lines such as ‘I’ve got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you’, and they always play it straight. It’s an odd setup I’ll grant you, but if you stick with it you’ll find that it actually works rather well.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is very good here; playing the role of determined, cool detective just the right side of subdued. He knows how to handle the noir caricature, never once slipping into being too emotionally withdrawn and always having a certain charm and charisma attached to him. As to his costars they all do a fine, if not particularly noteworthy job in their respective roles. Thankfully they too know their subject and play it dead straight. You have to be ready to embrace the initially anachronistic dialogue and characters, but if you do you will find a surprisingly alive and intelligent little film lurking here.
My biggest issue with this one is the cool indie style in which the film is drenched. As much as it is a huge part of the film’s identity and I am alright with that, it does detract from certain moments which should be more emotionally rich. The film wants to play its story cool and pretty detached due to its noir sensibilities, but a story of a young teenager investigating his ex-girfriend’s murder naturally should have some degree of emotional undercurrent – and that is sadly missing here.
Still, this is one of those rare films which has a certain amount of hype about it being original, stylish and intelligent and it does mostly pull through. It’s a great early example of Levitt’s and Johnson’s talents, in fact it is considerably better than Looper, and although it is a little too stylised for my personal taste, this is bound to appeal to noir and indie film fans. It’s no must see, but it is a curiosity piece which actually lives up to its hype.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s excellent performance.
Its greatest weakness? The lack of emotion on display.
Would I see it again? Yes, although I won’t be rushing back.
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