An over indulgent and often confusing stab at film noir, The Black Dahlia leaves little to be desired as director Brian De Palma continues to prove that his best days are behind him.
Based on James Ellroy’s novel (which is based on the infamous unsolved murder), The Black Dahlia tells the story of 1940s police detectives Dwight ‘Bucky’ Bleichert (Josh Harnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), two former boxers turned detectives who work warrants by day while enjoying the lifestyle of their local celebrity at night.
When the dismembered body of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short (dubbed ‘The Black Dahlia’ by the press and played by Mia Kirshner) is discovered, Lee obsesses over the case using his connections to transfer himself and a reluctant Bucky to homicide so they can work on the murder full time. Investigating the seedy underworld of L.A. which the ‘Dahlia’ frequented, Bucky becomes involved with ‘Dahlia’ look alike Madeline Linscott (Hilary Swank), while Lee’s dirty past comes back to haunt him and his girlfriend Kay (Scarlett Johansson).
The Black Dahlia suffers from paper thin characters and distracting sub plots, which take away from the main reason many would have watched this film; the Black Dahlia murder, which is shoved aside so many times that by the end no one could give a damn about the victim or her killer.
Acting wise Harnett, Eckhart and especially Johansson are dreadful, delivering dreary dialogue (courtesy of writer Josh Friedman) while possessing none of the charm nor class that made these films so great. Only Hilary Swank survives smelling like roses, a spectacular feat when you are constantly surrounded by shit.
On the technical side the movie is almost flawless. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography along with Jenny Beavans costume design and sets are magnificent. Yet there work is undone by Mark Isham’s overblown score and De Palma’s inept direction, his constantly wandering camera feeling more like a practical joke, an over the top form of artistic expression by a has been director whose last great film (Carlito’s Way) was released back in 1993.
A disappointing film that does not come close to fulfilling whatever potential it had. Ignore it like the plague.