I understand why people responded to this movie so positively: it looks great and it seems to achieve exactly what it is going for. Which impresses me to an extent (especially considering its relatively low budget), but, really, what it achieved just didn't interest me for more than 15 minutes. It felt like another "one note wonder", and, essentially, it's a one-joke movie: high school kids caught up in a Dashiell Hammett short story, tossing around lines of hardboiled dialogue right out of a 1930s proto-noir.
The style is neat and, like I said, for about 15 minutes that was enough. But the stylized dialogue doesn't have a purpose, or, at least, it doesn't have a purpose that I bought into.
I've seen some comments by the film's fans along the lines of "the style is meant to comment on how kids today are growing up too fast" (or "how kids today are forced to deal with adult concerns"). I guess I not only disagree with this thesis in general - if anything, kids today aren't growing up at all (although no one seems to be particularly grown up in America these days) - but the movie doesn't dramatize this idea, really, so it seems like a notion that the film's fans have tacked onto the movie as a kind of rationalization.
Of course, I'm not even really sure that's what the filmmakers are up to, but if they aren't, what's the heightened, hardboiled dialogue there for?
My guess is that it's the other way around: they wanted to do something in a Hammett-like style, but doing a standard noir would be, well, standard (and another Red Rock West would be soooo 1990s), but with high school kids it stands out - it's a hook, a gimmick. It isn't a bad gimmick, but, again, after 15 minutes I saw that they pulled it off and they didn't have any other tricks. A tightrope act that lasts ten minutes is great: one that lasts an hour-and-a-half might be an impressive display of endurance, but the thrill just isn't there at the end.
Really, though, I've been spoiled by Veronica Mars, which is about a teenager who is forced to grow up too fast. But because that show deals with specific cases (i.e., there's lots of characters on it who are in a perpetual state of adolescence) the show's point never seems half-baked.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is good, though, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Killshot.