/Answers: Our Favorite Movie Mysteries

Matt Donato: Brick

Maybe I’m a tough customer, but it takes a lot for movie mysteries to pull the proverbial wool over these eyes (not a profession of intellect, just lucky guessing mostly). That’s why my choice for greatest movie mystery is easy given how it dumbfounded with ease – Rian Johnson’s Brick. A mature, heady film noir that exists in a high schooler’s mind and his school’s subsequent underbelly. You’ve seen this kind of story told with adults, but Johnson introduces an element of unexpected captivation given the age range of subjects. Deaths, double-crossings, drugs – and all before the afternoon bell rings.

Johnson’s mystery starts with an ex-girlfriend and a phone call, then leads to a discovered corpse. Brendan, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, makes it his mission to solve the young girl’s murder. Each clue ends up dragging him deeper into an underground drug dealing ring run by “The Pin” and the cronies around him. This is the simplistic version of what happens, but Johnson continues to leak reveals like drips in an IV bag. Carefully calculated to introduce pregnancies, outbursts and slip-ups at the exact climatic cue. No bull-rushing or final-act reliance. Brendan’s investigation is masterfully paced, far better than any debut filmmaker should achieve.

Brick is, in every sense, a hardboiled detective story that Johnson never backs down from creating. Despite their age, characters are beaten to bloody messes (Brendan, continually), exposed as thugs and killed on camera. Yet, there’s also an intelligent manipulation at the hands of Brendan. Be it using muscle-bro Tug (Noah Fleiss) to get what he wants or the albeit ridiculous permission to carry out his case on school grounds (one hell of a Vice Principal). It’s all directly drawn from classics of the genre –  Dashiell Hammett is noted as one major influence – which rings true through Johnson’s vision.

And yes, it always works.

In the end, Brick ends up being a twisty, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it whodunit that’s as “simple” as a game of who’s playing who. The answer? It keeps changing as the film proceeds, be it Brendan, The Pin, a dame, a stoner – the finger always points somewhere. That’s what keeps our synapses firing. That’s what hypnotises viewers in this familiar-yet-fresh murder mystery. That’s what makes Brick a masterful noir caper worth every invested second – a rare film where the chase is equally, or even more rewarding than the kill.

Chris Evangelista: Angel Heart

It’s impossible to fully discuss the mystery at the heart of Alan Parker’s creepy 1987 horror-noir Angel Heart without giving away its ultimate twist. Here’s what you need to know: down on his luck private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke, constantly smoking and sweaty) is tasked by a mysterious man (played by Robert De Niro) with tracking down a missing singer.

What follows is a journey through 1950s New York and New Orleans, all while the occult looms large. It’s one hell of a film, in more ways than one. What makes Angel Heart’s mystery so enticing is that it approaches its supernatural-tinged tale as if it were just another detective story. It even adheres to the detective fiction rules that master of the genre Raymond Chandler established during his career. It also doesn’t cheat. While there’s a whopper of a twist at the end, it doesn’t arrive cheaply, and anyone watching the film with the attention to detail of a private eye will likely pick up on the clues along the way.

The end result is a highly satisfying mystery yarn that just happens to be wrapped inside a horror movie. It’s hard to blend genres so effectively, yet Parker’s film does it through and through, and makes such a task look easy.

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