The Black Dahlia

One of the standard Hollywood conventions comes into play in The Black Dahlia, Brian De Palma's adaptation of James Ellroy's novel.   The novel is based on the actual murder of Elizabeth Short in 1940s Hollywood, an era soaked in noir.  However, while the film is about the murder, it is more about how the murder affects three people, specifically the two detectives investigating the Short murder and the woman that both of them love.   There's nothing wrong with doing this, but after watching the film, it probably would have served De Palma (Femme Fatale, Mission to Mars) and adapter Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds, Chain Reaction) to focus on something else, because The Black Dahlia is interminably dull.

This is really a shame, because the film looks amazing.  De Palma does a great job of setting the story in a convincing Los Angeles from an earlier era.  All the men look sharp, and the dames are gorgeous.  Cigarette smoke rises lazily into the air, and the buildings, cars, clothes and everything else look just right.   The speech patterns are good, as are the character archetypes – corrupt cops and mysterious women are all present.  But once people start speaking, it all goes downhill.   The Black Dahlia is a great film to look at, but a painful one to listen to.  L.A. Confidential is the standard for all recent noir films to reach.   Films can either try something new (like Brick) or, like this one, fail miserably.

It takes a while to get to the physical murder of Short (Mia Kirshner, Party Monster, New Best Friend).  De Palma begins showing how the two lead detectives, Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett, Lucky Number Slevin, Sin City) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart, The Wicker Man, Thank You for Smoking) met.   The two are a product of good publicity at the LAPD.  Both were amateur boxers set up in an exhibition match to help sell war bonds.  The winner would get a plum job in the department.  Blanchard won, but both received the job, and ended up as partners.  Blanchard was living with Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson, Scoop, The Island), and Bleichert quickly became fast friends with both, spending lots of time with the couple.  Once they are put on the Short murder, the friendship begins to strain as Blanchard becomes obsessed with finding Short's murder.

Into this equation comes Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby, The Core), a mysterious woman who knows something about the Short murder.   Bleichart finds himself drawn to her – she looks a lot like Short, and the temptation is too difficult to resist.  Swank is all mood here.   Her hips sway, she wears all black, gives seductive glances, and smokes a long, skinny cigarette.  But when she says thinks akin to "I wanted to make love to somebody who looked like me," it causes unintentional laughter, and pretty much sums up The Black Dahlia.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
2 hours, 1 minute, Rated R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content, and language.

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