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Overall Rating
2.51

Awesome: 11.7%
Worth A Look: 20.21%
Just Average: 9.57%
Pretty Crappy: 24.47%
Sucks34.04%

6 reviews, 58 user ratings


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Black Dahlia, The
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by Marc Kandel

"Hepcats apply within. Bring a pencil and a notepad: You'll need it."
3 stars

Pervs, panty-sniffers, sink shitters, you unwashed masses of mutilation munchers that are James Ellroy fans, what will you make of “The Black Dahlia”, un film de Brian De Palma? What about those multitudes of closet stocking lickers and tree-squatting cat molesters that haven’t ever picked up even one book by the man? The fast track on this flicktoon is that there’s plenty of glamorous, lurid imagery, hailstorms of razored prose and squirmy truths brought to light by sure performances, but by film’s end, are you really going to know what went down?

The Black Dahlia follows detectives Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Leland "Lee" Blanchard (Aaron Eckhardt) through 1940’s Los Angeles, a dirty orange streetlight and neon coated lust den of victims and victimizers, in search of answers to the sad, horrible death of Elizabeth Short, mutilated and strewn across an empty lot like some broken storefront mannequin. Lee's obsession with the case spirals out of control, and Bucky must keep his partner on track while juggling an obsession of his own, Lee’s girlfriend Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), whose relationship with Lee is as big a mystery as any other in the film.

And that’s the short version. There are mysterious pasts, incestuous love triangles, femme fatales, personal shames and family secrets. These plots explore our leading ladies and gentlemen attempting to do the right thing in this maddest of worlds, there are McGuffins to throw us of the scent, there are moments that give us a taste of that noir magic (which DePalma delivers in visual and kinetic spades), and sadly, there’s not enough of the titular character woven through each to make the film truly spark.

The Dahlia and her morbid hold on those involved in her story should be the epicenter. Instead, Betty Short comes off as wallpaper; ever present, yet not commanding absolute attention, save for the too brief moments we spend with Mia Kirshner’s haunting recreation of Elizabeth Short, a sad, desperate young woman reaching for the stars in a world that casually devours her.

The bulk of our time is spent with Hartnett (Bucky), doing the best work he’s capable of (his monotone, distanced delivery is put to good use here) but hamstringed by a script that makes him initially view the Dahlia case as a distraction to his personal and professional concerns until far too late in the film. To Bucky, the Dahlia’s dead. He’s got to worry about the living (that the Dahlia killer might strike again doesn’t appear to be a concern).

Lee (Eckhardt)’s personal perspective is needed the most, but we only really see him through Bucky’s eyes, denied entrance into the Dahlia’s web where Lee is thoroughly cocooned. Lee is incensed by the Dahlia murder to the exclusion of all else, but we really learn this only from people around him picking up the pieces of his mania. His stories are told mostly third person, and never given the detail required to truly see inside this man’s heart, substituted with ourtraged tantrums that come off more as exposition than character work.

Bucky’s late in the game dalliance with the Dahlia mystery rings false as a result, as if he’s simply following an echo of Lee’s unquenchable thirst for all things Betty Short. He’s there to close the case, but the fever obsession with Betty both men shared in the novel never really takes root in the Bucky character onscreen. DePalma throws us a Carrie-esque moment at the film’s conclusion to suggest that the Dahlia will never leave Bucky, but I never saw this character drawn into her world enough to buy this as anything other than a signature DePalma moment.

You’ll see a few of those moments by the way, one being a "Big Sleep" take off that's the highlight of the picture (and the dinner scene of the decade), the other being the expected DePalma Hitchcock maneuver, questionable in my eyes as it gives us the identity of an antagonist very early on, even for those unfamiliar with the book. It's a shame, because other than this one time, the film brims with a master's quality, shot with rich flair capturing the feel of the age, the sun beaten days the velvety nights coating both rich and poor, beat cops and old money in veiled in tinsel and sweat.

DePalma's softer touches are note perfect, as is the case with the very first shot of the Dahlia corpse, done from an aerial view parallel to Bucky and Lee’s stakeout on a separate case; the theater is flush with anticipation; we sail over the horror from a cold distance, the grotesque act set before us and the imagination begins to beat with the frenzy we know is to come as the media, police and public descend on the garish scene, and then we float away, knowing we must return and get very close indeed to the goings on in the flat grass. It's the closest we will ever really get to the horror, tension and excitement of that gruesome moment in LA history and it’s done perfectly. If only that belly fluttering dread and sour excitement could have been sustained…

By the film’s conclusion Elizabeth Short’s case feels oddly cold. We’ve spun off on so many tangents, side quests, and personal drama, that it feels like one has jumped in a pool, swam around a bit, gotten out, dried off, gotten dressed, and then gotten thrown back into the deep end by the lifeguard.

LA Confidental, Dahlia's onscreen predecessor, kept its many plates spinning, three characters keeping the spotlight on the central investigation, their needs and desires simply coloring their inexorable move forward to the truth.

With Dahlia its the opposite; everything is filtered through a single character who doesn't feel altogether invested in the case until the end, the central mystery of the Dahlia intruding occasionally to remind people there’s still work to be done. Worse, we lose the furious zeal of James Ellroy's quest to discover who this person Elizabeth Short really is, and his livid crusade to have justice done for this lost soul, even if it's a fictional justice. Instead, the ending removes Elizabeth from the equation completely, turning crazed spectacle over devastating revelation. Its a fun letdown, but ultimately a letdown.

James Ellroy casts a long shadow in his works, and you better invest his passion and wrath into every moment. The Black Dahlia makes for wonderful cinema and solid entertainment, but loses the haunting resonance of Elizabeth Short's tragedy, which must be the driving force for the story. Despite the three stars its Worth a Look to me, hepcats, but not the classic I'd hoped for.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15241&reviewer=358
originally posted: 09/19/06 15:35:56
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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
6/06/08 PAUL SHORTT ALMOST NOTHING WORKS IN THIS INCOHERENT AND UNCOMPELLING FILM 1 stars
3/18/08 Jack Sommersby Unfathomably boring, with uninteresting characters & sluggish narrative drive. 1 stars
3/04/08 art A PERFECT COMBO OF MICKEY SPILLIANE AND A REAL LIFE KILLING 4 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
1/14/07 ACTION MOVIE FAN HARNETT IS GOOD BUT MOVIE IS DULL AND DRAGES--WATCH DETAH SECENS FOR THE REAL DAHLIA 2 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  15-Sep-2006 (R)
  DVD: 26-Dec-2006

UK
  15-Sep-2006

Australia
  23-Nov-2006




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