Written straight out of film school, Brick is an unusually well conceived and executed first feature. Riffing on Dashiell Hamnett by way of the Coen Brothers, it’s a twisty mystery brimming with all the requisite noir ingredients: hard-boiled dialogue, little girls lost, doped-up baddies and a stiff-jawed hero who’s on the outside looking in. The flip is, the film is set in a Southern California high school. But it is no parody — SoCal’s rich kid/poor kid divide and the ambience of overwrought teenagerdom legitimise the film’s noir approach in unexpectedly successful ways. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Third Rock from the Sun) gives a cool, low-key performance as protagonist Brendan, whose ex-girlfriend’s murder sets him on the trail of a double-deal gone wrong. Lukas Haas makes a creepy appearance as the Pin, the school dealer who’s the too-obvious suspect, and the femme fatale — whose true colours aren’t revealed until the last frame of the film — is played with likeable ambiguity by Nora Zehetner. Noir buffs and cinephiles-at-large will appreciate the integrity of this good-looking movie, which was shot for less than $500,000 U.S. after six years of effort by Johnson and his colleagues to get it on the screen. In those six years, Johnson had time to learn the business and think about the choices he would have to make; the film benefits from the extra time in contemplation, as well no doubt from the lack of studio meddling. His commentary on the feature and deleted scenes suggest that Johnson’s discipline in the editing suite matches his creativity on the page. Junior filmmakers can learn a thing or two from his tales of stick-to-itiveness, while any number of established directors whose storytelling chops seem to diminish in relation to their growing budgets (I’m talking about you, M. Night Shyamalan!) will be reminded by Brick that only a great script can make a great movie. Extras include feature commentary by director and cast, deleted scenes and audition footage.