The Black Dahlia

Film, Drama

Time Out says

A tale of personal obsession and institutional rot, James Ellroy’s narratively sprawling yet intensely interior novel ‘The Black Dahlia’ was never going to adapt easily to the screen. But it had a solid precedent in ‘LA Confidential’ (also from an Ellroy novel) and its key motifs – doppelgängers, monomania, grotesque violence – seem a good fit for director Brian De Palma. Unfortunately, another of De Palma’s pet fascinations runs away with the show: like many of the characters, he’s unhealthily ‘enamored of the flickers’.

In January 1947, the mutilated body of Hollywood wannabe Betty Short was found, severed at the waist, in an empty LA lot. Around this real-life case is spun a fictional web involving boxing rivals turned LAPD partners Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) – each increasingly obsessed with the case, each comforted by Lee’s girlfriend Kay (Scarlett Johansson) – and the powerful Linscott clan, including femme fatale Madeleine (Hilary Swank) and pill-popping mater Ramona (an eye-rolling, film-stealing Fiona Shaw).

Ellroy’s prose crawls into characters’ secret hearts and under the reader’s skin, but its foetid horrors become kitschy here, the script too streamlined and the lead performances too shallow to dredge the story’s depths. It’s a story in part about the cruel tension between the glamour myth and its ugly construction, but De Palma indulges the former: the burning cars in the opening riot scene are that bit too well-placed, and while there are impressive coups de cinéma – the long crane shot that discovers the corpse, an awkward social encounter shot in the first person, another staircase shoot-out homage (this time to ‘Vertigo’) – it’s hard to see how they serve the story. Only the introduction of screen-test footage of Short (Mia Kirshner) in conversation with a boorish off-screen producer, played by De Palma himself, exposes the needy self-delusion the film otherwise coddles.

By: Ben Walters



Release details

Release date:
Friday September 15 2006
125 mins

Cast and crew

Brian De Palma
Aaron Eckhart
Anthony Russell
Hilary Swank
Mia Kirshner
John Kavanagh
Fiona Shaw
Josh Hartnett
Troy Evans
Pepe Serna
Patrick Fischler
James Otis
Scarlett Johansson
Rachel Miner
Mike Starr
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