Our hero got a call from his ex-lover two days ago, after a furtive note telling him to be at a certain phone booth at a certain time. She sounded like she was in trouble, so he went looking for her; asked around; kept his eyes open. And now he's found her. Dead. Face-down in a reservoir, her blonde hair trailing in the rainwater runoff. He's shaken, but he knows what he has to do: He's going to find out who's responsible. He's going to find out why they killed her. He's going to see that justice – or something like it – is done. He walks away from the body, sad but ready. He's going to have to plumb the local underworld. He's going to have to ask ugly questions. He's also going to have to come up with an excuse for the Assistant Vice-Principal about why he won't be in class for the next few days. ...

Brick, written and directed by Rian Johnson, is already being called many things: Hammett goes to high school; a teen noir; a distorted trip through two different genres, as if John Hughes directed The Maltese Falcon. All those things are right (or glib enough to be quotable, which is almost as good), but let's also cut to the chase: The first thing you need to know about Brick is that it's hands down the first truly great film of 2006, one worth seeing and seeing again and actually thinking about, with sharp, snappy dialogue giving it a lustrous gloss, and carefully-drawn, achingly human characters putting real weight and power under the sheen. What Johnson's done with Brick is something akin to taking two old pieces of wood – caked with years of dust and shoddily-applied paint, layers of uneven age-dulled wax, cheap veneer and hastily-applied stain – and banging them against each other so hard and so precisely that all the cover-up and concealment fall away revealing the true beauty and grain of each piece so we can see them both as new.