The Black Dahlia

Movies
FLESH FOR FANTASY Swank hopes her man's into necro.
FLESH FOR FANTASY Swank hopes her man's into necro.

Time Out says

Recently, novelist James Ellroy, the neo--hard-boilist behind this tale and L.A. Confidential, described Brian De Palma as the “ideal artist” to bring his ’40s universe to life. On paper, he’s got a point. Ellroy has his obsessions—primarily Hollywood’s infamous 1947 “Dahlia” case (a chopped-up, disemboweled girl) and the juicy morbidity of celebrity death—while De Palma has his own, not that far off: highly orchestrated slayings inspired by Hitchcock and a glittering, voyeuristic style.

So why don’t Ellroy’s instincts hold up? Basically, he remembers a De Palma that no longer exists: The Black Dahlia is a dissatisfying whiff, a missed opportunity for sizzle and salaciousness that has the director working more in his studio-safe Mission: Impossible mode, and less his Body Double or Scarface one (or even that of his ridiculous Femme Fatale). Never known for eliciting strong performances, De Palma has made the mistake of his career by casting the inert Josh Hartnett as Ellroy’s self-ruining detective; not once do you believe Hartnett is driven by the Dahlia, or even aroused by her postmortem “look-alike,” the bizarrely cast Hilary Swank.

Thus we get a big, expensive-looking production, sheathed in the same boring sepia photography and warbling trumpet soloing that have become de rigueur in neonoirs, but absolutely no heat. The rest of the cast functions serviceably: Scarlett Johansson, as angelic salvation, looks great in period dress, and Fiona Shaw brings some over-the-top crazy to her rich-bitch matriarch. Too late. De Palma has forgotten the romance of his killer camera.—Joshua Rothkopf

(Opens Fri; see Now Playing for venues.)

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