“The Black Dahlia” Falls Flat

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Brian De Palma has, in the past, executed some intriguing film noir with an uncanny style, a unique touch of creativity, and interesting multi-layered characters. Unfortunately, none of these things can be found in his latest film “The Black Dahlia.”

Supposedly based on the novel by James Ellroy, the movie attempts to cram absolutely every subplot of the novel into a mere two-hour time frame. The result is a convoluted story with a series of senseless and unnecessary subplots that confuse the audience and leave them wanting to throw popcorn at the screen. Additionally, one has to wonder why the movie is named “The Black Dahlia” since so little of it has anything to do with this notorious California crime. In fact, the Dahlia isn’t even introduced into the story until 20 minutes into the film.

“The Black Dahlia” boasts what should have been a dream cast with Hillary Swank, Josh Harnett, Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johanssen. Sadly, the performances of these stars are blatantly disappointing. Harnett and Eckhart in the roles of Buddy Bliechert and Lee Blanchard respectively represent the two LAPD detectives assigned to the now infamous Hollywood murder. Eckhart overplays his role to the point of utter distraction. While Harnett paces himself in the part, he simply lacks the charisma necessary to make moviegoers care about his character. Swank is reduced to a second fiddle role as narcissistic heiress Madeline Linscott. Her role brings little to the film except for further jumbled plot confusion. Johanssen, as the love interest of the two detective partners, sincerely attempts to make the best of a poorly developed role. However, she still falls below her obvious acting capabilities. The only shining performance of the entire film is that of Mia Kirshner as Elizabeth Short, AKA The Black Dahlia. Her scenes, which show the screen tests of the Dahlia – – filmed in eerie black and white – – are absolutely captivating.

The real shame is that the story of the Dahlia, who is supposed to be the focus of this film, doesn’t really get much play. It is only through the use of her haunting screen tests that the audience gets a glimpse into Short’s life. These, along with her pornographic films, make it clear what the aspiring actress was willing to do to achieve fame and fortune. Ultimately, it is believed – – although never proven – – that these deviant ventures were responsible for her death.

On a positive note, the film captures the feeling of the 40’s and shows a pretty realistic picture of the ugliness of the film industry during that time. The costumes, makeup, set design, and photography of this film is right on target; almost making it worth watching for those things alone. Almost. In reality, this movie bogs down almost at the outset and never quite catches fire. I regret that I can only give it one and a half stars and that is strictly for the work of supporting staff (costume designer, set designer, cinema photographer).

“The Black Dahlia” is a Universal Picture in association with Millennium Films, Signature Pictures, Equity Pictures and Nu Image Entertainment. Brian De Palma directs it. The movie is rated R for violence, some grisly images, sexual situations, and some bad language.