Wilting Flower

by Alan Rapp on September 15, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Black Dahlia
  • IMDb: link

black-dahlia-posterTwo cops, Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), both former boxers, find themselves thrown together, first in the ring, and later on the street trying to solve the mysterious death of a young women who wanted nothing more than to be a Hollywood star.  The film centers around the relationship of the two cops and Lee’s girl, Kay (Scarlett Johansson).

One of the films plot threads involves the death of Elizabeth Short (Mira Kirshner) who the papers tab “The Black Dahlia.”  But that’s only one of several mysteries.  There’s the spoiled rich girl with secrets (Hilary Swank) and her dysfunctional family, the hidden reason behind Lee’s obsession with the case, a recent parolee (Richard Brake) who has it in for Lee and frightens Kay to death, the case of a child rapist and killer, and a dirty movie staring young Miss Short and another woman (Jemima Rooper).

There are also subplots including Bleichert’s throwing a boxing match for his adle-minded father (James Otis), office politics in the police station, and the love triangle between the three leads.

The film makes the mistake of many films over the last twenty plus years; it tries, and fails, to be Chinatown.  Sadly, like so many others, it falls far short.  Its most comparable to 1996’s Mullholland Falls.  It has all the ingredients but somehow manages to still spoil the soup.  It knows just enought to imitate the film noir style, but not enough to succeed in replicating the once great genre.

The film tries to cram so much story into such a short period that it may keep you off-balance and guessing at times, but more often will just make you scratch your head wondering why it was all included.

De Palma’s main problem, besides his inability to create one coherent story, is his utter failure with his female leads.  How anyone could get such one-note piss poor performances out of the likes of Swank, Johansson and Kirshner is simply beyond me.  How you make Hilary Swank into Haylie Duff is perhaps the most perplexing mystery of the film.  What’s so bizarre is De Palma is the one who got a career performance out of Rebecca Romijn in 2002’s Femme Fatale.  So why do Johansson and Swank come off so mediocre here?

Hartnett you can excuse because, well, he’s Josh Hartnett (sorry folks, I’m just not a fan).  The rest of the cast comes off well including Eckhart who is having a great year in film.

The movie also includes several poor choices including some glaringly bad choices of music swelling at inappropriate, and thus hilarious and groan worthy, moments.  Also disturbing is the drastic change in tone from disjointed scene to disjointed scene.  Some parts of the film feel like a film noir thriller but others feel almost campy; add to that some trully brutal slasher film moments and you’ll begin to understand just how uneven a film this is.

I’ll say this for The Black Dahlia, it tries.  It doesn’t succeed, but at least it puts forth the effort.  There’s a promising begining and several good threads but it just never tries to bring them together.  I’m not sure but I think the film would work better after multiple viewings though the film isn’t quite good enough to justify that level of commitment.  I can’t recommend the film, but I give it credit for trying to be true and faithful to Elroy’s novel, though the creators, and audiences, would have been better off if they would have take the time to prune this flower instead of trying to shove the whole bush into the Hollywood chipper all at once.

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