In 1946, the former boxers Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert and Lee Blanchard are policemen in Los Angeles. Lee has a good relationship with his chief and uses a box fight between them to promote the department and get a raise to the police force. They succeed and are promoted to homicide detectives, working together. Bucky becomes a close friend of Lee and his girlfriend Kay Lake, forming a triangle of love. When the corpse of the aspirant actress 'Elizabeth Short (I)' is found mutilated, Lee becomes obsessed to solve the case called by the press Black Dahlia. Meanwhile, Bucky's investigation leads him to a Madeleine Linscott, the daughter of a powerful and wealthy constructor that resembles the Black Dahlia. In an environment of corruption and lies, Bucky discloses hidden truths.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Cate Blanchett has an uncredited and unmentioned cameo in the film. In the scene where Josh Hartnett's character is in a lesbian bar asking questions and he sees Hilary Swank's character for the first time, Cate Blanchett is one of the dancers while the song is being sung and there are at least two shots of her when Josh Hartnett's character is asking some women at a table if they had seen Elizabeth Short. See more »
When Pa Bleichert is shooting pigeons, the Dr. Pepper logo stenciled on a wooden crate is a 1970s typeface. See more »
Ofcr. Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert:
Mr. Fire versus Mr. Ice. For everything people were making it out to be, you'd think it was our first fight. It wasn't. And it wouldn't be our last.
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Interesting and stylish, but disappointing overall
It has been almost ten years since Curtis Hanson delivered what was arguably the best picture of 1997, L.A. Confidential. That movie was great in almost every way (my key dislike was only in the performance of Kim Basinger, yet the Academy did not agree with me), and a big part of that was due to the source material from James Ellroy. And now comes The Black Dahlia, another one of Ellroy's books based on detectives in the 1940's, only revolving around a real event and having master filmmaker Brian De Palma at the helm. And unfortunately, the film comes with mixed results.
After taking part in a boxing match which ends up giving a whole lot more power to the L.A.P.D., Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Leland "Lee" Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) are promoted to detectives and become partners. Shortly afterwards, they become entangled in the brutal murder of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), otherwise known as the titular Black Dahlia. What follows for them is a tale of corruption, greed and vengeance. It may not seem like much (not too mention the femme fatales of Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank), but the film really has a lot going on.
And this is where a bit of the problems lie.
Some of the events that occur over the course of the film, are just completely random and almost unexplainable. Hell, random subplots appear and disappear faster than they come up. When it really starts getting down to business, the movie becomes downright confusing, and the narrative does not let up for anyone to truly figure it all out. It gets especially bizarre in the final act, when almost nothing truly makes sense, and we just have to sit and just contend with what ends up happening. It makes it seem like they want the audience to sift through and determine what is relevant to the film and what is not, and only then can they truly grasp onto a full understanding. Even after watching the film a few hours ago, I still question some of the things that happened.
I think one of the key reasons it does not make a whole whack of sense is the fact that it revolves around a real event. Last week's Hollywoodland had this same problem in that the filmmakers do not seem to have an idea of where to draw your attention. Do they want the focus on the murder itself, or do they want the focus on the cops investigating it? Adding in a few seemingly bizarre backstories does not help this either. They seem to strike gold when they focalize on what the murder and its impending investigation is doing to Bucky and Lee, but they do not spend enough time expressing it. They touch on it in passing, and instead, cut to either useless items, or completely random things. You can tell that there is some form of direction however, just not enough.
Hartnett plays Bucky very smoothly, and does a very adequate job in his narration. He really lacks the zest to make his character interesting however, and has a really tough time trying to make the audience care about him. He just does not seem to have the hard-boiled cop schtick nailed down here, and only comes off as a little less than soft-boiled. Eckhart on the other hand, does have the zest and really shines through as Lee. His character goes through most of the changing during the film, and you can see the dramatic change of character as the film progresses. He just does not have nearly enough screen time to truly flesh him from being the strange and mysterious character.
Johansson does well for herself as the girl stuck between the two partners, and only sparingly gets the opportunity to stretch out her enigmatic character. Swank on the other hand, feels completely useless in the scheme of things (until her character actually serves a purpose later in the film). Her disappear/reappearing Scottish accent is laughable, and her whole performance really begs the question of how she has managed to snag two Best Actress Oscars in less than ten years. Supporting work, especially from Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw and the flashback heavy Kirshner, are all on the mark and are fairly well done in their limited roles.
Whereas there were problems with many other things, there are none with the sets, costumes and cinematography. This is 1940's Los Angeles, and it looks gorgeous. Every single minute detail seems to have been polished and amped up to the point of looking like it was filmed sixty years ago. It makes the film feel more realistic than it is, and makes the sheer "coolness" of the settings and characters stand right out. Although it may be advertised as being noir, it really is nowhere near as dark as it could have been. Yet, it still has enough packed into it to make this film visually astonishing.
Another standout is the feel of it being a De Palma film. The camera angles, the slow motion, the violence, the sheer editing of it all (especially the worn black and white film clips of Kirshner as Short), just screams old school De Palma. From the start, even with its problems, the audience knows it is in the hands of a style master, and in that regard, the film is consistent and on the mark.
But unfortunately, that same phrase cannot be used to describe the rest of the film. It is truly a mixed bag, but despite its confusing narrative, it is still interesting and stylish as hell. But I still cannot help but be disappointed overall. I guess I was just expecting a whole lot more.
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