The Black Dahlia Movie Review
The second unsolved Hollywoood murder film noir picture to arrive in theaters in two weeks, "The Black Dahlia" has a couple things going for it that "Hollywoodland" didn't - namely a guaranteed grisly murder and an established feature length director. Unfortunately, it is also the second unfulfilling unsolved Hollywood murder film noir picture to arrive in theaters in two weeks.
"The Black Dahlia" stars Josh Hartnett as a popular young detective who has made a name for himself by boxing against his more established partner in large venue arenas. A police celebrity, he gets promoted quickly to a point where he is looking to take down a dangerous child molester - but after a shooting gone awry, by chance, a beautiful young woman is found nearby on the side of the road. No longer beautiful, she has been literally cut in half at the waist, her organs removed. Her mouth has been cut open from ear to ear, and she was repeatedly beaten with a baseball bat. She is the Black Dahlia, one of the most notorious murder victims in Los Angeles history.
Just like "Hollywoodland," "The Black Dahlia" is less about the murder at hand and more about the characters' own stories - at least here, the characters' own stories involve deceit, obsession, murder, corruption and sex. Hartnett's partner, played by Aaron Eckhart, becomes so obsessed with solving the murder that it nearly pushes his girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson) over the edge. Of course, as any straight man would be, Hartnett is also attracted to her. While his partner lingers on the edge of insanity, Hartnett strikes up an awkward relationship with the daughter of Hollywood elite (Hilary Swank), who may know something about the murder. Everything falls into place at the end as you might suspect of a Brian De Palma picture ("Scarface," "The Untouchables", "Mission: Impossible"), but the movie's inability to remain focused makes the entire picture feel longer than it should.
To first start off on what went right, Hartnett is a good choice for a role. Even though he has never really found major success despite several starring roles, he is an underrated actor who works wonders with scripts with catchy dialogue - which is perfect for a film noir story. Johansson is also quite good, though her character really doesn't have much to do, and Eckhart continues to grow on me after several movies of which I felt he was the worst component. Swank, however, with her deep Irish accent and devious side, fails to work as the sexy phenom that distracts the lead character. Not a good casting choice.
Of course, one of the best performances in the movie, and probably the most overlooked, is that of Mia Kirshner, who plays the Black Dahlia herself. The combination of her performance and the eerie flashback videotapes that De Palma injects throughout the film add a level of creepiness to the picture. Kirshner really captures the femme fatale perfectly, and the results are just damn spooky.
The plot, as expected, is interesting. "The Black Dahlia" is essentially a film that took a real murder and then built its own story around that murder, rather than try to base everything on true events. De Palma has added layer and layer of subplots and deceptions on top of the grisly death, and in one way that contributes to the picture, and in another way it takes a whole big chunk away. The movie looks good and is very stylish; I absolutely loved the camerawork during the sequence where the body is discovered. The story twists are intriguing as well, but what De Palma fails at is to make these twists truly shocking. Most developments hit in the last 20 or 30 minutes of the film, and while De Palma explains everything, he doesn't necessarily explain them in a way that makes us want to care. The characters that are involved in the murder really aren't in the movie very much, and thus it seems that we've been cheated the whole movie - De Palma could have chosen anyone to be the murderer and it would have fit into his story.
"The Black Dahlia" is certainly more entertaining and captivating than "Hollywoodland," but still fails to truly draw the audience into the picture. Inconsistency abounds, as De Palma plays the price. Not a horrible film by any means, but certainly a bit of a let down.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.