Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I think by now Director Brian DePalma has had a career that probably places him in the category of a legend.  Surely if Coppola and Scorcese can be considered legends then I humbly submit this Italian New Yorker for admission into this club as well.  I mean this is the guy that crafted ‘Scarface’ for the love all that’s holy!  With the exception of ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ I don’t think the Mr. DePalma has ever made a really, really bad movie.  Even ‘Mission to Mars’ and ‘Snake Eyes’ had their moments, plus Carla Gugino was in Snake Eyes, and Carla Gugino in anything is always a good thing.   mmmmm Gugino…  DePalma’s ‘Blowout’ with John Travolta was actually the first movie I saw at a theater all by myself back in the day.  I think I was thirteen at the time, remembering what I big boy I must be.  So that brings us to the now proclaimed legendary director’s latest film Black Dahlia.  While it is no ‘Scarface’ or ‘Blowout’ it’s still an interesting film, and it’s 100% DePalma.

Based on a James Ellroy novel, ‘The Black Dahlia’ is a fictional retelling of the actual murder of aspiring Hollywood actress Elizabeth Short who was found vivisectioned off in some field with her mouth slit from edge to ear.  A truly horrific crime for that or any time, and since it was never solved it has always been supposed that someone with power and money had committed the crime.  In our film, young police detective Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and his seasoned, law bending partner Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhardt) are investigating the case.

Oh but there is so much more than the gutting of the pretty, if marginally talented Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) going on to be concerned about.  Detective Blanchard has a live-in lover named Kay Lake (the bountiful Scarlett Johansson).  Kate has a past, with

the scars to prove it, left from a pimp named Bobby DeWitt that Blanchard put away, and it would seem, stole a bunch of his money.  To complicate things, it would appear that DeWitt is back on the street and looking for revenge.  Detective Bucky has his own issues, starting with a father with Alzheimer’s disease, and a passionate relationship with a Madeline Linscott (Hilary Swank) who is a Los Angeles debutante who likes her fun on the seedy side.  Madeline has a connection to the murdered actress as the two may have been lovers, and it becoming increasingly obvious to Bucky that the ultra rich Linscott’s are hiding something far larger than the murder of Elizabeth Short, and even more troubling for Detective Bucky, his partner looks to be deeply involved as well.

Now I haven’t read the Ellroy novel, but the movie versions of his work tend to get might bit confusing and jumbled.  It probably works wonders in the setting of a book where you basically have an infinite number of pages to tell your story and can introduce as many plot points and characters as you so well choose, but  this 'Black Dahlia’ isn’t a book.  A movie has a finite amount of time to tell a story and DePalma may have been better served trimming some the layers of the book back because it becomes difficult to follow.  Of course I can only speak for myself, but there were moments during the film where one may wonder, ‘why did they kill…?’, ‘and who was that, and where did the money come from?’, ‘and she did that because…’.  It tries to wrap itself up in a nice neat little package in the end, but it seemed a bit rushed, and also out of tone with the rest of picture.

Visually, and atmospherically speaking, ‘The Black Dahlia’ is flawless.  Brian DePalma is a very visual filmmaker and here he is in total control of his canvas.  1940’s Los Angeles looks even better here than it did in ‘L.A. Confidential’ with beautiful cars, beautiful architecture, and beautiful clothes on beautiful people who engaged in some of some of the worst acts imaginable.  The director has also set up a nice pace to keep the convoluted plot moving along as best he can, but here the movie is obviously fighting against itself to get the story told. 

The performances are good throughout with Aaron Eckhardt being a banana peel away from getting himself an Academy Award one day to place next to the bunch of them that Hilary Swank already has. Actors Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson are fantastic looking people, and given a choice, I’d much rather be great looking than a good actor.  Fate has cruelly given me neither.

For fans of Brian DePalma, I fairly certain they will like this movie as we, yes I would include myself in that gaggle, know what to expect from the director.  I don’t know if anybody else will care much for the confusing and meandering narrative that ‘The Black Dahlia’ presents. 

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