The Black Dahlia

Directed by Brian De Palma
Written by James Ellroy (novel) and Josh Friedman (screenplay)
On general release from 15th September 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

I can’t quite get inside the head of James Ellroy – whose novel this film is based on. If you like crime stories, then you can write crime stories. If you are interested in the real-life ‘Black Dahlia’ case, then by all means write a non-fiction account of it. But why on earth would you want to use some real life names and make up a resolution to a case that never actually had one? He will no doubt make a lot of money from Brian De Palma’s noirish screen version, so I suppose that’s what matters in the end.

In this version – as in real life – B-movie actress Elizabeth Short (played here by Mia Kirshner) was brutally murdered in post-war Los Angeles. In reference to a popular play of the time, the press called her ‘The Black Dahlia’. And that’s where the undisputed facts dry up, allowing fantasy to run absolutely wild.

So we have two boxers turned cops who get caught up in the case when they stumble across the body. Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) is nicknamed ‘fire’ because of his emotional turbulence. Which means ‘Bucky’ Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) must be ‘ice’, because he’s so cool. Together (and sometimes apart), they try to work out whodunit, whilst Lee’s lover (Scarlett Johansson) looks alternately terrified and turned-on by the whole thing.

As you would expect from a De Palma film, this looks incredible, especially during three pivotal scenes. But some of the acting is atrocious. I know he’s supposed to be ‘ice’ and everything, but Hartnett’s expression only changes once in two hours, and even that is when he is punched in the face! Eckhart – who also impressed in Thank You For Smoking recently – is far more convincing. But his ‘fire’ character quickly moves into the background, meaning most of the sleuthing is left to the boring iceman. And maybe it’s just personal taste, but Johansson seems far too young and blonde to be a convincing femme fatale, so that role would have been better going to Hilary Swank, who instead plays Bucky’s rich bitch girlfriend.

Because three hours is considered too long for modern audience to sit still, an hour was eventually cut from this film, and it completely spoils the whole experience. So many faces, motives and manipulations are crammed into so little time that The Black Dahlia fails to hold the attention, unlike the woman herself, whose death was the ultimate career move.

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Comment left by mc on 20th April, 2007 at 23:36
this isone of my favorite movies ever and i view this murder as a horrible crime.

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