THE BLACK DAHLIA
1/2 (out of 5)
September 15, 2006
Josh Hartnett as DWIGHT “BUCKY” BLEICHERT
Scarlett Johansson as KAY LAKE
Aaron Eckhart as LELAND “LEE” BLANCHARD
Hilary Swank as MADELEINE LINSCOTT
Mia Kirshner as ELIZABETH SHORT
Directed by: Brian DePalma
BY KEVIN CARR
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“The Black Dahlia” is Brian DePalma’s latest attempt to save his career from such failures as “Snake Eyes,” “Mission to Mars” and “Femme Fatale.” Unfortunately, and sadly, it’s his worst movie yet.
The film is being advertised as being from the director of “Scarface” and “The Untouchables.” This is, of course, true. But that doesn’t mean that it is nearly as good as these classics. DePalma is seriously past his prime, and it’s no surprise that the advertisement is heralding movies he did two decades ago.
The film is based on the book by James Ellroy, who also penned “L.A. Confidential.” It tells the story of one of the most brutal murders to hit Hollywood in the 1940s. A young aspiring starlet named Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) is found in several pieces in the south side. Young hot-shot detectives Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) start to look into the case.
As Bucky digs deeper and deeper, he finds a tangled web that stretches through L.A.’s seedy underbelly. Lee has a special obsession with the murder that seems to drive him away from his sweetheart Kay (Scarlett Johansson), serving to push her closer to Bucky.
The real story of the Black Dahlia murder is intriguing, partly because of how gruesome it was, but also because it exposed the seedy side of Hollywood in its golden age. In reality, some big names in entertainment – including Woody Guthrie and even Orson Welles – were considered suspects. Unfortunately, none of this is really brought out in the film.
Instead, the story meanders around Bucky’s life as he sleeps with suspects and tries to woo Kay at the same time. Perhaps too much of the novel was preserved in the film, serving only to confuse and distract any sensible plot. Whatever the case, by the time I reached the climax for the big surprise reveal, I was so apathetic that I didn’t care who the murderer was.
There are some decent things about this film, however. The cinematography and the score are incredible. In some ways, it did remind me of “The Untouchables.” It’s just that the story wasn’t there to back things up.
Ultimately, DePalma just can’t shake his label as a gimmick director, and he takes things to the hilt with “The Black Dahlia.” In some ways, its a scene-by-scene resume of his previous films. Think of every DePalma cinematic technique, and he tries it in this film. I found myself making a mental checklist of what I’ve seen in other movies…
The high-tension boxing sequence? Done! The long, tracking shot from several of his thrillers? Done! The split-screen depth-of-field shot? Done! The POV camera shot? Done! The woman pushing a baby carriage? Done! The slow-motion gun fight on a staircase? Done!
DePalma is so bereft of new ideas that he even dips into other directors’ bags of tricks, sinking as low as to throw in unnecessary and over-the-top dream sequences and flashbacks.
Ironically, the only actor who does a decent job in the film is Josh Hartnett, of whom I’ve never been a fan. However, like his appearance in “Sin City” and “Lucky Number Slevin,” Hartnett proves that he has a knack for the film noir style.
Unfortunately, many of the other actors aren’t just bad, but they’re embarrassing. Oscar winner Hilary Swank slaps on a cheesy, lacquered Hollywood golden era accent that only sounds good against Rose McGowen’s even cheesier accent. Aaron Eckhart is forgettable, and Scarlett Johannson proves that she really is just another pretty face with a nice rack, and really not a great actor.
The only appealing things from “L.A. Confidential” that are retained in this film are the lesser parts. For example, there’s a lot of lip service of how Hilary Swank’s character looks a lot like the victim. The only problem is they don’t look alike at all. It reminds me of all the lip service in “L.A. Confidential” as to how much Kim Basinger looked like Veronica Lake even though she really didn’t look that much like her.
“The Black Dahlia” isn’t just bad. It’s impressively bad. I didn’t think they could make a movie this bad.