Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Black Dahlia

"I think you'd rather fuck me than kill me. But I don't think you have the balls to do either".

Josh Hartnett
Aaron Eckhart
Hilary Swank
Scarlett Johannson

Written By:
Josh Friedman

Directed By:
Brian de Palma

My rating 3.5/5

The Black Dahlia is a fictionalised account of the solving of the notorious murder of young actress Elizabeth Shortt in Hollywood in 1947. It is told from the perspective of a young naiive cop who gets dragged into the case from a number of different angles and slowly manages to tie the angles together to create an interesting story of how and why this crime was committed. All the basic film noir elements are there: good cops, bad cops, drugs, gangsters, the best friend's girl, the femme fatale and the twisting storyline. These elements combine nicely to create a story which works most of the time, but fails to keep the viewer enthralled throughout.

By far the most promising thing about Brian de Palma's adaptation of James Ellroy's sleazy Hollywood novel was the possibility of how attractive it could look. The smoky, erotic underbelly of 1940s LA is the perfect setting for De Palma's distinctive visual style. The film completely proved itself to be worth the price of admission for this alone. It looks beautiful from the first frame to the last. The composition of the shots, the costume design, the colours and the immaculate beauty of the cast really provides the essence of "old Hollywood". It is a treat for the eyes and an exercise in aesthetics just to view it.

Josh Hartnett plays the sweet but naiive "good cop" opposite Aaron Eckhart's hot-tempered "bad cop". Both are wholesomely handsome American men, beefy and square-jawed. The ladies are equally as glamorous with Scarlett Johannson pumping her red lips up to inhuman proportions to give us a pout that the sirens of the past could only dream about. Hilary Swank for once wears a dress and slinks her body around the film so fluidly that we wonder why she usually insists on playing genderless characters. Both actresses do a wonderful job but the biggest credit must go to Mia Kirschner for her potrayal of the titular Black Dahlia. Despite her characters' short, posthumous screentime, she delivers a character as deep and twisted as any other in the film.

The film's major problem was in the script. If the plot flowed as easily as the dialogue the film may have become a classic alongside Ellroy's other Hollywood set crime thriller, LA Confidential. However, too much of the first and second acts are focussed on the lives of the cops and not enough attention paid to the fasinating case of the Black Dahlia murder. By the third act, the story has become so convoluted that the audience have nowehere specific to focus their attention and therefore stop caring as the film reaches it's twisting climax.

-Charlene Lydon 28/9/06

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