Thriller is more of a flopper
If "The Black Dahlia" were indeed a blooming Dahlia, its petals would begin to droop as soon as the poor acting kicked in. Then, after some confusing plot twists, its leaves would start to turn brown. And eventually, after being neglected by bored viewers, it would soon shrivel up into nothingness. Essentially, that's the withering tale of this Dahlia.
Director Brian De Palma's attempt at a modern film noir, "The Black Dahlia" recounts the horrific 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short and the investigation that followed. The film, narrated by detective Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), focuses on the two partners assigned to the case, Bleichert and Sgt. Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). See how this can get real confusing, real fast?
Hartnett's character, the handsome centerpiece of the film, is a wise and somewhat subdued young man, who even after talking throughout the entire movie is still a mystery to the audience (and not just because of his monotonous and muddled narration). To add to his dull voice is a dull persona — a classic 1940's Sam Spade-type detective — fazed by nothing, not even the disturbing videos of the deceased Short. Eckhart's character on the other hand, is distraught by everything that happens in the film, and his growing obsession with the case is expressed with constant whining and unruly tantrums. His irritating behavior bothers and worries each character around him: Police Chief T. Green (Troy Evans), Bucky and Eckhart's girlfriend, Kay (Scarlet Johansson) — to whom Bucky immediately comes to the rescue.
As in all murder mysteries of the 1940's, this film has the same melodramatic music creaking in the background. The smooth jazz, if you could even call it that, formulaically begins to play as someone pulls out a cigarette, or adjusts their fedora while they're deep in thought. But perhaps it was De Palma's intent to portray the cheesy, over acted drama popular in movies of that time — a concept which could have been an enjoyable change for the movie-making industry of today. However, the way this technique is executed makes the movie seem more reminiscent of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" than "The Maltese Falcon." The music and acting were powerful at times, but mostly just laughable.
Then, there is the plot — exhausted with confusing twists and turns. In fact, what are intended to be surprise twists are often missed completely or mistaken as simple developments in the murder case. It's not until the final five or ten minutes of the movie, that several separate and unrelated events are sloppily strung together to solve the mystery.
If the film must be praised for something, cinematographer Dante Ferretti certainly deserves his props. For one, the hazy glow about the screen, noticeable in different parts of the movie, made the story very surreal and intriguing (too bad the same cannot be said for the acting). But what really made the film a mystery was the silhouetted characters and the dim, shaded lighting present in the moments of the movie that were most disturbing or frightening. The cinematography really was the only element of the movie that captured the essence of a 1940's film noir.
To put it simply, the film was a good idea gone terribly wrong. What could have been interesting was instead funny. What could have been well-done, or at the very least understandable, was instead confusing. But let's face it, not all movies — or ideas for that matter, can flower.
"The Black Dahlia" (121 minutes) is rated R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language.
Cassie Cummins. Cassie Cummins is an 11th grade CAP student whose life is made complete with a hot cup of coffee and a long nap- preferably with Abe Lincoln by her side. When she's not doing homework or pining over her loss of sleep, she enjoys watching … More »