The Black Dahlia **
"The Black Dahlia" appears to have been a labor of love, and it certainly has the makings of a great movie. But it ends up being overdone, and slightly self-indulgent, and talky, and boring, and something really not worth seeing-ever. And it's a shame. It's not that "The Black Dahlia" is something terrible, but simply, a disappointment. The attempt to revive the film noir seems to have been shot dead, as much as some of the characters in the film. It's first mistake is that it casts Josh Hartnett in the lead role. I really have never seen any film that he's in with a worthy preformance by him, and to put him as a lead role in something like this is just a bad idea. He doesn't work from minute one, and seeing him trying to put on a Humprey Bogart type character was just a joke. I laughed at some of the things he said.
Hartnett plays Bucky Bleichert, a dectective who just has a new partner, Lee Blanchard. The two have been given the nicknames Mr. Ice and Mr. Fire, respectively, after a promotional boxing match where the two met. Bucky, Lee, and Lee's wife Kay, have formed a large friendship. The three are constantly in each others company, and Bucky is even able to just walk right into Lee's house. He describes it as the happiest time of his life, as the two cops form a great team, capturing some of L.A's hottest criminals. This all changes with the murder of Betty Short, an aspiring actress. Her murder was declared the most grisly in all of Los Angeles history. The photos of her dead were not even make public. She was found cut in half, with a large cut from her right ear to her left. Bucky and Lee want to find the murderer, as it slowly begins to eat away at their normal lives. Lee becomes the opposite of who he usually is. He is always angry and annoyed, punching walls and knocking things off of tables. Bucky gets distracted, slightly, by a lady Madeleine Prescott, who begins to seduce him as a way to keep her name out of the papers. And as the case deepens, he begins to see everyone who is involved, and they are not exactly who he expected.
"The Black Dahlia" takes its cues from the classic films noirs of the 40's and 50's. The characters talk with the lingo of the time. They get straight to the point and don't beat around the bush. They talk quickly and their actions are always over the top. At one point, during a sex scene, one character rips off the tablecloth, complete with glass, plates, and a half eaten turkey. And of course, as with all films set in the past, everybody smokes. I almost got lung cancer just watching all these characters smoke. The set design is something to behold, and director Brian de Palma had that down pat. He created a stylish film, but not one that ever involves the audience. I really didn't care about anything that happened here. He has created a technical masterpiece, but failed in everything else he tried to do. Thinking about it, this should have been a great film. It had the makings of one. It was a dark, noir, detective story, with amazing visuals, but it only passed in one of those four elements. Out of the four lead actors-Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckheart, and Hilary Swank-the best one is probably the fifth. Mia Kirshner, who played Betty Short, is a wonder to watch, and her scenes from the best. Ironically, we never actually see her being herself, just the screen tests that the cops watch to try and understand who she was. We don't understand her better than anybody else in the film, and whenever we actually se eher, she's trying to play a part, and land a role. It shrouds more mystery around her, and Kirshner plays it so that we want to know more. I was hoping for more screen test scenes than there were. Eckheart is also very good here, as the cop whose life is slowly eaten away as a result of the murder. ee truly has grown over the years. Earlier in the year he proved that he is leading man material with "Thank You for Smoking," and yet again with "Conversations with Other Women." He is probably one of the most underrated actors around right now.
"The Black Dahlia" is the classic critics line-All style and no substance. It never really knows what it wants to be. At times it is a dectective story, of the cops trying to find the killers. At times it is a story of obsession, and how the murder affects the lives of everyone who comes into its path. At times it is a story of the fallen friendships of three people, and their slowly crumbling lives. It jumps from focus to focus, never settling on one, and never letting me care about one. If de Palma put as much effort into the story and structure as he did in the visuals and set design, he could have had one of the best films of the year. He falls short, but a mile. "The Black Dahlia" hopefully will get a few technical nominations, but that is where the line must be drawn. A sad, and sorry, disappointment.