Friday, September 22, 2006

The Black Dahlia: all dressed up and nowhere to go

Given that the Black Dahlia case is one of L.A.'s most notorious unsolved murders, you'd think that a director with as sinister an imagination as Brian DePalma could make an interesting and suspenseful film from the material.

And you'd be wrong. The Black Dahlia is like someone with a great wardrobe who can't coordinate or accessorize. The production values are high; some performances are good, and even with those that are so-so, the actors look good; but overall the film is dismal.

I don't want to go into too much detail, for those of you who just have to see things for yourselves, or for those who see it for the one quick shot of Josh Hartnett's cute butt, but (haha) I'll mention a few items to try and discourage you.
  • The Dahlia doesn't even come into the picture for half an hour. Instead we spend way too much time establishing the relationship between Hartnett's Bucky Bleichert and Aaron Eckhart's Lee Blanchard. Then we get an overhead visual of Elizabeth Short's body, a woman runs off screaming, and we never see where she runs to -- we have to endure several minutes more of what BleichBlanch are up to around the corner (relevant to the overall plot, but not to the Dahlia) before we finally go to the primary crime scene.
  • So the Dahlia seems almost beside the point. We find out who did it, and why, and where in a next-to-final scene that is completely over the top. But it's too little, too late.
  • As other reviewers have commented, Fiona Shaw--who is a great actress--seems to be in another movie, maybe a remake of Rebecca as Mrs. Danvers.
  • As another reviewer has commented, and I don't remember who (although I'd gladly take credit for this one), Scarlett Johannsen plays a sweater. Much as I like her in some things, here she's just miscast.
  • Josh Hartnett seems to have one expression, an agonized scrunch of the face. Aaron Eckhart has a few, but all are smirk-based.
  • Hilary Swank is pretty okay, but given the general mess of this film, her performance comes off as better than it really is. It's just that all around her, not much else is going on...
  • One of the only amusing scenes is one in which Bleichert questions an extra in full Egyptian dress. She's played by Rose McGowan, who is sassy and snappy and to the point, everything this film is not. I was sorry she wasn't involved with the crime; at least she would have been amusing company.
  • There are lots of little continuity problems; one especially bothered me. The Scarlett character, Kay Lake, wears red red lipstick; every time she went to kiss someone, the lipstick seemed to magically disappear from her lips in the clinch shot. Is Josh allergic to Cherries in the Snow?
  • Note to Brian DePalma: Atmosphere is great, but it's no substitute for decisive storytelling . I think you could have made a better movie.

So see The Black Dahlia at your own risk. Or don't.

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