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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 brianorndorf

"Even when it's nuts, it's still pretty good"
4 stars

“The Black Dahlia” is the second Hollywood noir offering in two weeks, but combats familiarity with rousing production design and thundering direction from Brian De Palma. Sure, it’s rarely coherent, and some of the performances could launch themselves into outer space, but “Dahlia” is gorgeous to behold.

Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Leland “Lee” Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) are two ex-pugilists-turned-cops working the warrant beat in late 1940’s Los Angeles. During a bust, they come upon the gruesome crime scene of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner): a young, desperate Hollywood starlet who was disfigured, gutted, torn into two pieces, and left to rot. Turning their attention to the Short case, the detectives hit the streets for clues. For Blanchard, the case challenges his sanity and personal relationships (Scarlett Johansson), and he falls further into an obsession with Short. At the same time, Bleichert stumbles into the hands of an enigmatic siren (Hilary Swank) who resembles the dead girl.

James Ellroy’s crime tales of the Hollywood underbelly are like Rubik’s Cubes, and I don’t envy the filmmakers who endeavor to solve them for the big screen. 1997’s “L.A. Confidential” took everything director Curtis Hanson had within himself to keep the story on the rails. Now, legendary filmmaker Brian De Palma suits up for another gloomy yarn of sex, lies, and constant cigarette smoking.

Of the two films, “Dahlia” is the one that excels the most in recreating this period where crimes were solved with two fists, no one bothered with the truth, and knee-buckling sultry women wore lipstick the color of a gunshot. It’s a filmmaker’s dream to unearth noir material that allows for such visual grandstanding, and there’s nobody around who can accomplish that task like De Palma. His bliss in depicting the bruise-n-babes era roars at the senses like a 3-D effect, pushing “Dahlia” to wonderful heights of production detail. The neon glows with menace, the costumes shimmer with texture, and menace is felt in every shadow. The key to capturing Ellroy is pessimism; that rot behind the beam of Tinseltown is what De Palma brings to the production that few others could. Ellroy has never had it so good.

While De Palma is embracing the 1940’s visual landscape, he’s made a controversial decision and instructed his actors to recreate the acting techniques of the decade as well. In 2006, the push to sometimes operatic melodrama can look foolish, and when some of these actors are shoved out into the sun, their performances can reach cringe-worthy levels.

Thankfully, the internalized role of Bleichert meets Hartnett at his skill level, asking the monotone, gravely actor to portray a poker-faced hardball who doesn’t feel the need to emote. Of course, when the actor breaks this promise, the seams show in the acting, but Hartnett isn’t nearly the liability here that he usually is. The real fun is Swank, who slips on the role of a bisexual kitten like a velvet glove, turning the film’s most twisted and breathless role into one of its most memorable.

It’s easy to get sucked into the dreamy haze of the mystery and the allure of the femme fatales, but to decipher the plot, you’ll need a something to write with and perhaps a device that will keep your eyelids from blinking. This is a sprawling crime saga, and screenwriter Josh Friedman loads the dialog with character references, heightened period snap, and lays the exposition on like maple syrup. Much like “L.A. Confidential,” there’s just no room for emotional investment here, but “Dahlia” works twice as hard to immerse the viewer into the seedy world of these cops and their bad choices, and that compensates dearly for the occasional confusion.

The complexity of “Dahlia” and its octopus-like story of murder, Hollywood ambition, and forbidden love doesn’t really pester until the final 20 minutes, when De Palma has to find a suitable finish. Like Hanson, De Palma stumbles badly to find an exit, creating the final movement of payoff and closure in an extremely tedious and flabbergasting series of scenes that reach uncomfortable moments of near parody. Rarely do you find a film fall to its knees that way that “Dahlia” does in the final strokes, and it takes the sting right out of this gorgeous film.

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originally posted: 09/15/06 16:33:41
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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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