The Bleak Dahlia

Sept. 19, 2006, midnight | By Pia Nargundkar | 13 years, 9 months ago

Murder mystery is boring and senseless

Some movies are great, some are decent, some are funny and some are touching. And then there are movies that make you cry for your two hours and $10. "The Black Dahlia," directed by Brian De Palma ("Scarface" and "Mission Impossible"), based on the book by James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential") and featuring a host of stars, has the right amount of talent to be great, but falls far short.

The story is based on the gruesome real life 1947 murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth "Betty" Short in Los Angeles. Short, a beautiful 22 year-old woman—nicknamed the "Black Dahlia" due to the color of her hair and clothes—was found dead in a weedy lot, severed in half, with the blood drained from her body. Gross, right? That's just the beginning.

"The Black Dahlia" focuses on the turbulent lives of two detectives, Officer Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and his partner, Sergeant Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). The movie starts decently, detailing the odd start of Bleichert and Blanchard's friendship—a boxing match between the two. The policemen, who box on the side, were forced to fight each other for a publicity stunt designed to earn money for the force. After the fight, the two men, along with Blanchard's girlfriend, Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), quickly become the best of friends. Their lives seemingly appear good until the detectives are assigned the "Dahlia" case.

From here the story gets fuzzy, with so many bizarre twists, random characters and unnecessary scenes that the more interesting mystery becomes figuring out what happened to the plot.

Hartnett offers a disappointing role, diverging poorly from the "stud" label given to him after "Pearl Harbor" and "Black Hawk Down." Failing to show varying emotions, De Palma makes a mistake by giving him too much narration. Johansson is little more than a puppet for the entire movie. Contrastingly, Hillary Swank, last seen as a female boxer in "Million Dollar Baby," shines as Bleichert's love interest.

While the film fails in plot and continuity, it succeeds immensely in costuming and set decoration. Everyone wears the flashy suits and dresses of the late '40s - even characters that spend less than a minute on the screen have elaborate costumes and makeup. The numerous dimly lit scenes match well with the movie's murky theme, and the seeming randomness of some sets add a creepy feel to many scenes.

Even for diehard fans of film noir, "The Black Dahlia" just misses the spot. Spending too much time on nothing and hardly any time on the supposed plot of the movie—who killed Elizabeth Short and why – it ends in a hurry. Struggling to tie up the innumerable loose ends, the story finally wraps up at lightning speed in the last 15 minutes, as if trying to prove that everything irrelevant was somehow important. By that point however, the viewer is likely to have (a) left the theater or (b) fallen asleep. Just ask the three other people in the movie theater.

"The Black Dahlia" (121 minutes) is rated R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language. It is currently playing in area theaters.

Pia Nargundkar. Pia Nargundkar was Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips Online during the 2007-2008 school year. More »

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