BLACK DAHLIA, THE
Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (John Hartnett) are top boxers recruited into mid-40s LAPD as partners and their first case is the gruesome murder of raven haired Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirschner), soon to be known as the black Dahlia. Blanchard's growing obsession with the case threatens his relationship with Kay (Scarlett Johansson) while Bleichert is drawn to the enigmatic heiress, Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank), whose Hollywood property developer father, Emmett (John Kavanagh), turns out to have a connection with the murdered Short.
Review by Louise Keller:
A brutally murdered girl, two ex-boxer cops who are buddies and the beautiful blonde who is always in the middle but never between them. Then there is wealthy Scottish tycoon, his unhinged wife and sultry daughter who bears a striking resemblance to the murdered girl. The story is based on a James Ellroy novel which takes one of Hollywood's most baffling, unsolved murders and injects it with a generous dose of fiction. With director Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables, Dressed To Kill) at the helm, The Black Dahlia revels in its stylish noir production, even though it gets lost in the maze of its zigzagging plot lines. The film does look wonderful and intrigues much of the time, despite its overload of confusing characters. It might be high class hit and miss, but it is nonetheless worth seeing.
Aaron Eckhart as the hyper, manic Lee Blanchard, whose boxing nickname Mr Fire best describes his tempestuous character, is without doubt the film's most credible character. He and Josh Hartnett as Bucky Bleichert (Mr Ice) make an unlikely team - it is difficult to understand their relationship. Tall and buffed, Hartnett looks great in every shot, but there is little emotional vulnerability to match that of say, Russell Crowe's Bud White in LA Confidential. Scarlett Johansson oozes charisma and sex as the blonde bombshell with a questionable past, brightening up the screen every time on screen.
With her generous red lips, voluptuous curves and wiles, Johansson's Kay Lake is the epitome of the noir genre's glamorous blonde. The images of Mia Kirschner as the brutally slain murder victim Elizabeth Short (the Black Dahlia of the title) are seen in grainy black and white, and it seems apt that her look-alike, Hilary Swank's provocative raven-haired Madeleine always wears black, and so stylishly. The only subtle thing about Fiona Shaw's over-the-top performance as the crazy tycoon wife is the scene when a cuckoo clock chimes as her inebriated Ramona makes a dramatic exit.
The basic rule of homicide is that nothing stays buried forever, as ghosts from the past are unceremoniously dug up and any semblance of a fairytale relegated to a veneer. The Black Dahlia digs up plenty in this story of murder, deception, revenge, greed and lust. It may not come close to De Palma's best works, but the mood envelops us.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
James Ellroy once inscribed my copy of his book American Tabloid with the words, "Beware this book" - perhaps he writes that with every autograph, and he certainly should sound such a warning to potential filmmakers. Josh Friedman slaved for a decade as he grappled with the 300+ page The Black Dahlia, like a lion tamer wrestling a gorilla. The end result, in Brian de Palma's directorial hands, is bloody, sexy, deadly and highly charged - but somewhat garbled.
With de Palma's bold signature style overlayed to this story of brutality, fame, fate and eroticism, we could hardly expect anything but excess. And there are cinematic benefits like the cinematography, the production design and the music. So far so good.
Where things go off the rails a bit is dialogue that tries to replicate the written Ellroy, which can be hard to hear, never mind follow. Compounded by some story telling convulsions, the film can't be accused of simplifying any of its material.
Still, it's hugely entertaining to watch, and by the end we can figure out a rough composite of the complex and layered story. Needless to say, the less I say about the plot better, except to refer you to the synopsis above. What de Palma and his cast get totally right is character. Cinema is nothing if not about character, and in the rich, noir-growing era of 1940s Hollywood, the corroded, yearning, passionate lives of the protagonists make for wonderful escapist black fantasies.
Even though I regard the casting of Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart as the pugilistic detectives as unexpected, this in fact adds to the edginess of their performances. A blonde Scarlett Johansson and a raven haired Hilary Swank - playing opposite types of femme fatales - each capture the essence of their characters with great subtlety, and the supporting cast, notably Mia Kirschner as the tragic, wanna be Hollywood actress Betty Short (whose surname poignantly describes her film career), all give de Palma sized performances.
The Black Dahlia may not be perfect but it's a bravura cinematic statement from the 66 year old filmmaker with a string of memorable, tough and gritty films to his credit, ranging from films like Carrie (1976) through Scarface (1983) to The Untouchables (1987). This film will certainly be in the showreel.
Email this article
BLACK DAHLIA, THE (MA)
CAST: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner,Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Fischler, James Otis, John Kavanagh, Troy Evans, Anthony Russell
PRODUCER: Rudy Cohen, Moshe Diamant, Art Linson
DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma
SCRIPT: Josh Friedman (novel by James Ellroy)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Vilmos Zsigmond
EDITOR: Bill Pankow
MUSIC: Mark Isham
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dante Ferretti
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 23, 2006
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.