Monday, September 25, 2006

The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia
Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Mira Kirshner, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Scarlett Johansson, Fiona Kay, John Kavanagh

Brian De Palma's stint in film noir -- a stint that reached its height with the release of crime classic 'Scarface' in 1983 -- continues over twenty years later with this adaptation of James Ellroy's novel, 'The Black Dahlia'. In this typically 40's crime drama, Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart are two L.A. cops on the hunt for the brutal killer of aspiring Hollywood actress Elizabeth Short.

Bucky Bleichert (Hartnett) and his partner Lee Blanchard (Eckhart) are drawn into the investigation, but when Blanchard begins to obsess over the case, Bleichert is left to pursue it alone, meeting along the way what can only be described as a very against-type Hilary Swank as Madeleine, the mysterious, sumptuous daughter of Hollywood tycoon Emmet Linscott. But as Blanchard grows ever more unstable, Bucky is drawn closer to his wife Kay, played by Scarlett Johansson.

Although 'The Black Dahlia' is based on a real-life murder, the actual murder was never solved, and therefore the characters in the story are entirely a work of fiction. Presumably this is why they have virtually no authenticity at all, bar the Dahlia herself -- a truly captivating performance by Mira Kirshner -- and plucky Bucky, the leading man of the debacle. It is Hartnett that leads the audience amidst a typhoon of boring, somewhat ridiculous characters that are either underplayed (Swank), overplayed (Shaw), or simply badly acted (Johansson). De Palma watches the level of intrigue in his plotline move from little to zero, while Hartnett struggles bravely against a tired and at times painful script.

While Dahlia is almost adequate for the first hour, it quickly spirals downward when we can no longer be kept at a distance from the unfathomable reality that is the final act of the film. As things hot up, and Dahlia's love triangle subplot is ended once and for all, the pieces of the puzzle do finally begin to merge, or rather, splat together. But while De Palma likes to keep us dangling on a string for much of the film -- a string that's very very very fine I'd like to add -- he wastes no time in wrapping the film up into a frayed and bundled mess. Most disappointing is a finale that reeks of bad TV Whodunits, racing towards a silly conclusion like 'Murder, She Wrote' on acid (and I LOVE Murder, She Wrote). But hey, if you're lucky, you might blink and miss this manic, desperate culmination altogether. Here's hoping.

Grade: D+

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