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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.7%
Worth A Look: 20.21%
Average: 9.57%
Pretty Bad: 24.47%
Total Crap34.04%

6 reviews, 58 user ratings

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Black Dahlia, The
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by MP Bartley

"A ten armed juggler couldn't keep this many balls in the air."
2 stars

On this site's forum, a recent discussion about the work of John Carpenter made the point that he has recently fallen out of favour because he makes straightforward genre films, in a time where genre is a dirty word and irony is king. Arguably, Brian De Palma has befallen the same fate, and like Carpenter, is on a series of misfires and flops. So what better genre to try and kickstart his career than the film noir detective thriller? The only problem is that for every element of the genre that De Palma ticks off, there's another handful that he botches completely, establishing The Black Dahlia not as the return to form that he needs it to be, but more the desperate scramblings of a man trying to retain his relevance in an ever changing world of tastes and trends.

1930s L.A. and detectives 'Bucky' Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) form a new professional partnership, and also a firm friendship along with Blanchard's girlfriend, Kay (Scarlett Johansson), a woman with a shady past whose white knight turned out to be Blanchard. The two are thrown together to solve the murder of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) a struggling young actress who is found brutally mutilated and gutted on the edges of town. Blanchard finds himself being affected both professionally and personally by the case, while Bleichert finds a growing attraction between him and Kay. Ever the professional and ever the friend, Bleichert ignores this and instead pursues his leads on the case, which takes him into a sleazy underworld and to Madeleine Liscott (Hilary Swank) a bisexual femme fatale who may hold the key to the whole case.

The marriage between the direction of De Palma and the fiction of James Ellroy is one that is seemingly made in heaven. The tale after all consists of brutal violence (including an eye watering head splitting), Hitchcockian twists and turns and lashings of sex, with a healthy dose of lesbianism thrown in - what's not for De Palma to like? But a mix like that requires a subtle and balanced blending, simmering the elements slowly until they come together in a final intoxicating brew. De Palma however, attacks the material like a frenzied chef, throwing the elements into a blender and hitting puree like a maniac, with the result being a largely indigestible mess. There's simply far too much plot here, for the lean, slick thriller that De Palma has in mind - the murder case, Blanchard's growing mental instability, Bleichert's attraction to Kay. Bleichert's attraction to Madeleine, Madeleine's crazy family, Kay's damaged past, an unwieldy prologue of Bleichert and Blanchard taking part in a boxing match during the city riots that's clumsily glued on for no particular reason. It's a wildly overstuffed meal, with far too many flavours competing for attention, with a growing sense that there could be a brilliant 6 part mini-series here. Instead, De Palma lurches us from one narrative train track to another, with no rhyme, reason or rhythm, with Kong-like subtlety. We're left spinning by the end, and not in a good way. As the climax finally reveals who is behind the murder, it's easy to forget that there actually is a murder, and that that's supposed to be the driving force behind the film. While Curtis Hanson slid the logic of L.A. Confidential together with glorious clockwork precision, The Black Dahlia becomes an unfathomable mess where the prospect and need for second viewings is a punishment and not a pleasure. The piecing together of the various strands becomes a torturous chore and not a gleeful victory.

The shame of it all, is that De Palma shows us glimpses of what could have been. The sleazy, seedy atmosphere of the period is captured perfectly, and there's a simply glorious extended crane shot taking us from the discovery of the body, over the rundown streets, to another point of interest that would make Orson Welles weep in envy. But these are nuggets of caviar in a bucket of slop.

Thrown about in this mess, the cast valiantly try their best, but it's impossible to know who to root for. The loon? The ex-whore? the guy who fancies his best friend's girlfriend? Johansson pouts lushly on the sidelines, but isn't really old enough to convince as a woman with a shady past. Swank, surprisingly, is great as Madeleine, purring dangerously as the bisexual who knows more than she lets on, and doesn't care who has to seduce her to find out. Eckhart is as reliably sound as ever, fitting the period piece well, but we're never sure why he turns out to be so unbalanced as he is - he just is, because the plot demands it. Hartnett however, just feels wrong as Bleichert. He's young enough to capture the naive qualities of the young detective and the squareness of someone always trying to do the right thing, but he doesn't have the chops or charisma for the hero he's supposedly meant to be. Instead of someone whose brain is working furiously, he has the demeanour of someone trying to get a day's work done through a heavy head cold. Special mention must go to the nutso performance by Fiona Shaw as Madeleine's mother - just plain awful or purposely, garishly, over the top? With a De Palma film you're just never sure.

The crying shame about The Black Dahlia is that there are elements of a great film there, but are suffocated by De Palma's crazed insistence of throwing everything in there. The Big Sleep had an equally complex plot, but whereas Hawks glided that film together with smooth precision, De Palma stomps all over his playset with size nine boots and big banana fingers.

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originally posted: 03/08/07 21:34:59
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell decent no more no less 3 stars
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
3/19/08 Jack Sommersby Unfathomably boring, with uninteresting characters & sluggish narrative drive. 1 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
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
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  15-Sep-2006 (R)
  DVD: 26-Dec-2006



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