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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.7%
Worth A Look: 20.21%
Just Average: 9.57%
Pretty Crappy: 24.47%

6 reviews, 58 user ratings

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Black Dahlia, The
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by EricDSnider

"Oh, De Palma. You're just so ... De Palma-y."
4 stars

It's been four years since Brian De Palma made a movie, by far the longest break in his 45-year career. He hasn't changed much in the interim. "The Black Dahlia" is every inch a Brian De Palma Movie, ambitiously well-made, sometimes laughably trashy, always interesting, and occasionally so odd you just have to chuckle, shake your head and say, "Oh, De Palma...."

Mr. Wishes-He-Were-Hitchcock ("Scarface," "Carrie," "The Untouchables") loves his blondes and his femmes fatales ("Femme Fatale" was even the name of his last film), and "The Black Dahlia" has 'em in spades. Set in Los Angeles just after World War II, the film is based on a pulpy James Ellroy novel, which itself was based on a real story about a grisly unsolved murder. It's full-fledged film noir, not just in the hard-boiled dialogue and twisty plot, but in the way it's shot, rife with shadows, angles, alleyways and rooftops.

The obligatory cynical-voiced narrator is police detective Dwight Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), a stand-up guy whose partner and friend Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) is a little off-kilter and prone to obsessive behavior. They're looking for one particular low-life when Lee gets them moved to another case, investigating the murder of a struggling actress named Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), whose body was found disemboweled and cut in half in an empty field. I mean, who WOULDN'T want to work that case?!

Lee soon becomes unhealthily focused on solving the crime, with leads pointing to the girl's alleged forays into pornography and bisexuality (two of De Palma's favorite topics). That's in the background, though -- indeed, Lee seems to wander out of the film altogether for a while. In the foreground, there is Dwight's budding fondness for Lee's girlfriend, Kay (Scarlett Johansson). The three have always been chummy, but now it begins to go further.

Enter Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank). Daughter of one of Hollywood's wealthiest, WASP-iest movie moguls, she's also a part-time lesbian and full-time mystery girl. She had a connection to Elizabeth Short and soon has a connection to Dwight, too, insofar as they start sleeping together. Evidently Dwight never heard the rule about not sleeping with witnesses, or never saw any of the movies where doing so turned out badly.

Oh, but it gets convoluted from there, in the delicious way that film noirs do, with more murders and suspects and clues and red herrings. De Palma shoots it all in his usual gleeful and technically proficient style, though without quite as much showboating as usual. He executes a magnificent crane shot around a run-down building behind which Elizabeth's body is found, but the shot isn't one of the three-minute things he used to do so many of. The scene in which Dwight meets Madeleine's family is shot from Dwight's point of view, the camera standing in for him -- but again, this lasts only a moment. De Palma is doing all his old tricks, in other words, and in great abundance. He's just not doing them as thoroughly as he once did.

And so the film is enjoyable enough, yet never quite comes together as a whole. Without the visual curlicues -- I didn't mention a hauntingly composed shot of a shadowy figure observing a murder -- I suspect my attention would have dwindled several times over the course of the rambling narrative. I admire the way the characters are photographed and the way they move around the sets more than I care about them as people.

The performances are serviceable to the plot, which is to say the actors aren't showy or grand; they just do what they're supposed to. I cite as the sole exception Fiona Shaw, who wins the Christopher Walken Award for Craziest One- or Two-Scene Performance as Madeleine's hilariously alcoholic elitist snob mother. She's the quintessential Brian De Palma character: excessive to the point of being grotesque, so much so that you can't help but smile and think that's what De Palma was going for all along.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15241&reviewer=247
originally posted: 09/15/06 05:09:27
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell decent no more no less 3 stars
3/01/14 matthew thompson dalldorf Quite possible the most underrated movie of the last decade. 5 stars
2/03/11 jan laclede I didn't understand it. 2 stars
2/09/10 art AN EXCELLENT MURDER-MYSTERY!,it was a HUNDRED times better than HOLLYwoodland! 5 stars
1/24/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Lame lame and more lame. 1 stars
12/31/09 Dane Youssef Breathtakingly beautiful to look at, fine cast, spinning plot. But chokes at the end. 3 stars
1/16/09 Aesop Brian DePalma should be sentenced to watch this over and over for eternity. 1 stars
8/27/08 Shaun Wallner Bloody Boring!!! 1 stars
3/18/08 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
9/25/07 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
5/29/07 Piz Tons of potential but very flat and disengaging 2 stars
5/29/07 Dave horrible movie 1 stars
4/26/07 Heather Schroeder A obsene attack on your senses - not in a good way 1 stars
3/26/07 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
12/28/06 Jeff Anderson Great looking, but empty & uneven. However, Mia Kirshner is terrific as Elizabeth Short! 2 stars
12/07/06 Angel Chavez Terrible movie. If I wanted to watch a gory movie, I would have watched SAW. 1 stars
10/18/06 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
10/05/06 Hart I slpet through it - I WANT MY MONEY BACK... 1 stars
9/30/06 D.D. What a mess! How did it get released? 1 stars
9/29/06 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
9/24/06 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
9/22/06 J.C. If there were an award for the film of the year- This one wins heads up!! 1 stars
9/22/06 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
9/20/06 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
9/18/06 lenny martin This was not a good movie, over-rated and boring to watch. 2 stars
9/18/06 -leslie.- It never quite gelled. Visually beautiful, very confusing 1 stars
9/17/06 Mike Flawed but entertainingly old-fashioned; good performances and great visual achievement 4 stars
9/17/06 JohnW Appallingly boring and simple. Don't waste your money or time. 1 stars
9/17/06 ahnold Stupid. Convoluted. Bad Acting. Walked out on it. 1 stars
9/17/06 Brian A Jumbled mess of a film. Don't bother 1 stars
9/16/06 Chris It sucked. Even the rubber autopsy dummy is sorry she was in this one! 1 stars
9/16/06 Mark Bad script and acting but it looks good 2 stars
9/16/06 Rainer absolutely a rediculous film. Perhaps the worst direction every, hysterical 1 stars
9/16/06 Jess Thought it was quite good. 4 stars
9/16/06 Charlie Stella Garbage ... pure garbage. BIG disappointment 1 stars
9/16/06 Kris Quite possibly the worst film ever made! Pathetic waste of a good cast and subject matter! 1 stars
9/16/06 Gina This movie was about the lives of 2 ex boxers now cops not the murder of Elizabeth Short. 2 stars
9/16/06 Sara I have nothing good to say about this film, it was awful 1 stars
9/16/06 bobbi if you've never read the novel, you'll like the plot, otherwise slightly boring 4 stars
9/16/06 maria teresa lewis entertaining nothing great 4 stars
9/15/06 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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