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Overall Rating
2.51

Awesome: 11.83%
Worth A Look: 20.43%
Average: 8.6%
Pretty Bad: 24.73%
Total Crap34.41%

6 reviews, 57 user ratings


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Black Dahlia, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A beautiful corpse."
2 stars

Morose yet flamboyant, overstuffed with stylistic flourishes that dazzle even as they baffle, Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia" is sure to appear on many critics' year-end lists -- ten best and ten worst.

De Palma is an obsessional craftsman; at his best, he uses his peerless technique to put you inside his characters' paranoia and anguish. This time, though, he's working with someone else's obsession, and he never really gets inside it himself -- he just presents it with a gloss. De Palma and scripter Josh Friedman miss the tone and flavor of James Ellroy's hard-charging novel -- its bebop prose, its toxic mix of lust and shame, its genesis in the still-unsolved murder of Ellroy's own mother. Ellroy's book was felt, painfully, from the inside; De Palma's movie is filmed from the outside.

The premise is the same: Los Angeles cops Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), former boxing opponents, get drawn into the case of the Black Dahlia -- Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), a wannabe actress who fumbled through the nightlife and screen tests of bottom-feeder Hollywood before ending up mutilated and cut in half, looking like someone's demented science project. In the book, narrated by Dwight, the cops' love lives are warped by the case; it turns Lee into a monomaniacal obsessive, swallowing benzedrines and littering his dining-room table with Elizabeth's autopsy photos. The movie follows that track, too, but nothing is as starkly compelling as the glimpses of sad-eyed Elizabeth, gamely smiling through tears in some director's office.

The movie starts off top-heavy, devoting more screen time than expected to Dwight and Lee's boxing match, staged in order to get the public to vote for a budget increase for the police department. Ellroy wanted us to see the intersection between law and politics, cops maiming each other for the city's elite. But the way De Palma shoots it, it's just his homage to old boxing pictures. The entire movie, in fact, is his homage to old movies. Cosmetically, he's a good match for this material; in classics like Blow Out and Casualties of War, De Palma focused on young, untested men haunted by women they couldn't save. But here he just seems motivated by getting to wallow in a lush period setting (the late forties) for the first time since The Untouchables almost twenty years ago.

Playing in his sandbox of the past, De Palma forgets about his talented cast, who struggle to forge some reality inside the movie's stylized scheme. The women, trying to mimic the heavy-lidded seductiveness of past screen legends, come off worst; Scarlett Johansen, as Lee's platonic companion, and Hilary Swank, as a bisexual rich girl Dwight gets involved with, are terribly miscast. (Especially since we keep hearing how much Swank's character looks like Elizabeth, though she clearly doesn't.) De Palma fills the margins with old favorite actors -- it's fun to see Gregg Henry and William Finley again, though the former is reduced to glowering at the camera and then disappearing -- and interesting performers like Rose McGowan and Fiona Shaw (going waaay over the top as a batty matron) keep turning up. But none of it coheres. We don't share the main characters' inner conflicts because the director, usually such a strongly visual artist, resorts to telling us about them (if you blink, you miss the reason why Lee is so fixated on the Dahlia case).

The Black Dahlia won't do much to dissuade the common rap against De Palma as a cold technician who takes projects just for the elaborate set pieces they provide him -- here it's yet another staircase sequence (The Untouchables, Carlito's Way) topped by yet another fall into a fountain (Scarface). De Palma keeps himself amused -- sporadically -- but elsewhere stages things lazily, ladling an overly rambunctious Mark Isham score over everything. The movie is De Palma's essay on film noir technique, and some of his hardcore followers may enjoy it on that level, but most of The Black Dahlia is neither entertaining nor compelling.

James Ellroy made this material work -- by crude, brutal force -- because he believed in it. Brian De Palma only believes in its surface, and that's where the movie stays and dies.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15241&reviewer=416
originally posted: 09/18/06 07:22:39
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User Comments

3/02/14 matthew thompson dalldorf Quite possible the most underrated movie of the last decade. 5 stars
2/04/11 jan laclede I didn't understand it. 2 stars
2/10/10 art AN EXCELLENT MURDER-MYSTERY!,it was a HUNDRED times better than HOLLYwoodland! 5 stars
1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Lame lame and more lame. 1 stars
1/01/10 Dane Youssef Breathtakingly beautiful to look at, fine cast, spinning plot. But chokes at the end. 3 stars
1/17/09 Aesop Brian DePalma should be sentenced to watch this over and over for eternity. 1 stars
8/28/08 Shaun Wallner Bloody Boring!!! 1 stars
6/07/08 PAUL SHORTT ALMOST NOTHING WORKS IN THIS INCOHERENT AND UNCOMPELLING FILM 1 stars
3/19/08 Jack Sommersby Unfathomably boring, with uninteresting characters & sluggish narrative drive. 1 stars
3/05/08 art A PERFECT COMBO OF MICKEY SPILLIANE AND A REAL LIFE KILLING 4 stars
2/20/08 Servo A wasted opportunity. See LA Confidential for Ellroy done justice. 2 stars
10/24/07 Ivana Mann This movie spit and danced on Noir's grave.What a travesty of filmmaking! 1 stars
9/26/07 jwallace intriguing, had no idea swank was so hot! 5 stars
7/18/07 then came bronson thanks posters for sparing me from watching this movie. I had a hunch it would be bad but i 1 stars
5/30/07 Piz Tons of potential but very flat and disengaging 2 stars
5/30/07 Dave horrible movie 1 stars
4/27/07 Heather Schroeder A obsene attack on your senses - not in a good way 1 stars
3/27/07 Irene Diaz Bored me to death at times, pointless. 2 stars
3/10/07 dmitry Aside from Mia Kirshner, a total disaster and an insult to great writer's work 1 stars
2/18/07 Austin Wertman really terrible 1 stars
1/15/07 ACTION MOVIE FAN HARNETT IS GOOD BUT MOVIE IS DULL AND DRAGES--WATCH DETAH SECENS FOR THE REAL DAHLIA 2 stars
12/29/06 Jeff Anderson Great looking, but empty & uneven. However, Mia Kirshner is terrific as Elizabeth Short! 2 stars
12/08/06 Angel Chavez Terrible movie. If I wanted to watch a gory movie, I would have watched SAW. 1 stars
10/19/06 teegee Horrible - DePalma should have just gone for camp and parody; he's already halfway there. 1 stars
10/16/06 William Goss Dramatically inert; borderline campy; convoluted, but not compelling. Props to screwy Shaw. 2 stars
10/12/06 John I would crap on De Palma's face for making this piece of garbage 1 stars
10/06/06 Michael Coovert Just ho hum; I expected much more; did not ive up to the hype 3 stars
10/06/06 Hart I slpet through it - I WANT MY MONEY BACK... 1 stars
10/01/06 D.D. What a mess! How did it get released? 1 stars
9/30/06 RobD Terrible beyond belief. 1 stars
9/27/06 Raj I walked out! Maybe I thought it would be like 'LA Confidential'. This is another turkey! 1 stars
9/25/06 Volpone Horrible, horrible, horrible. Unbelievably bad. Don't waste your time or money. 1 stars
9/25/06 Robert laughably bad 1 stars
9/23/06 Mohobbit Bizarre,makes up a solution to an UNSOLVED case.Di Palma can make a bomb too. 2 stars
9/23/06 J.C. If there were an award for the film of the year- This one wins heads up!! 1 stars
9/23/06 Agent Sands Rather than a theory on a celebrity death like Hollywoodland, it takes full dramatic licens 4 stars
9/21/06 Greg It sucked, i walked out along with 10 other people 1 stars
9/21/06 Brian D. Kendall Stylish & very character driven. Dahlia buffs will miss horrific feel of Ellroy's book. 4 stars
9/20/06 jcjs liked as much as 'Sin City', masterpiece, 2 walked ouit, gees..some Golden Globe, Mia K. 5 stars
9/20/06 Rick Villafana If I could give it an F minus, I would 1 stars
9/19/06 lenny martin This was not a good movie, over-rated and boring to watch. 2 stars
9/19/06 -leslie.- It never quite gelled. Visually beautiful, very confusing 1 stars
9/18/06 Mike Flawed but entertainingly old-fashioned; good performances and great visual achievement 4 stars
9/18/06 JohnW Appallingly boring and simple. Don't waste your money or time. 1 stars
9/18/06 ahnold Stupid. Convoluted. Bad Acting. Walked out on it. 1 stars
9/18/06 Brian A Jumbled mess of a film. Don't bother 1 stars
9/17/06 Chris It sucked. Even the rubber autopsy dummy is sorry she was in this one! 1 stars
9/17/06 Mark Bad script and acting but it looks good 2 stars
9/17/06 Rainer absolutely a rediculous film. Perhaps the worst direction every, hysterical 1 stars
9/17/06 Jess Thought it was quite good. 4 stars
9/17/06 Charlie Stella Garbage ... pure garbage. BIG disappointment 1 stars
9/17/06 Kris Quite possibly the worst film ever made! Pathetic waste of a good cast and subject matter! 1 stars
9/17/06 Gina This movie was about the lives of 2 ex boxers now cops not the murder of Elizabeth Short. 2 stars
9/17/06 Sara I have nothing good to say about this film, it was awful 1 stars
9/17/06 bobbi if you've never read the novel, you'll like the plot, otherwise slightly boring 4 stars
9/17/06 maria teresa lewis entertaining nothing great 4 stars
9/16/06 king richard Great homage to noirs of the past. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  15-Sep-2006 (R)
  DVD: 26-Dec-2006

UK
  15-Sep-2006

Australia
  23-Nov-2006




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