Two policemen see their personal and professional lives fall apart in the wake of the "Black Dahlia" Elizabeth Short murder investigation.Two policemen see their personal and professional lives fall apart in the wake of the "Black Dahlia" Elizabeth Short murder investigation.Two policemen see their personal and professional lives fall apart in the wake of the "Black Dahlia" Elizabeth Short murder investigation.
With a steady build-up of noir conventions, the film hearkens to the expressionistic film and acting styles of the 40's -- a style which can induce giggles in audiences raised on irony. And I can count a few musical swells, flamboyant acting choices and dramatic fade-outs which caused unwanted comic relief. Or did it? If there's one thing De Palma loves more than entertaining his audience, it's confounding them. How else do you explain the two-hour joke that was "Raising Cain"? (Although I, for one, found that particular joke damned funny).
You watch "Dahlia" with the distinct impression that De Palma is enjoying every minute of it. He's copying Wilder, Welles and, you guessed it, Hitchcock -- and he's having a blast doing it. So when Josh Hartnett's character pulls a full dinner setting (including the turkey) off a table and throws Scarlett Johansson down lustfully upon it, should we also smile and remember "Double Indemnity"? I guess it would help if you've seen "Double Indemnity."
That said, the film's biggest flaw is that it smiles at itself for so long that it leaves little time to wrap up the plot. The onslaught of last-reel revelations seems to exist only to give the actors more opportunity to relish in the delicious mood De Palma has created. We never really cared about the plot in the first place because De Palma didn't care about it either. He's more interested in the shadows, the thrills, the drama, the lurking killers, swelling music, lusty confrontations and blood splatters. And the plot points get lost somewhere in the mix. So who can blame us for glazing over when Hartnett finally starts to care about the mysteries rather than just being mystified by them? De Palma has painted such an odd, exciting picture (even when it turns to camp) that the audience would rather keep watching the elaborate set-ups than sit through the convoluted solutions.
But then again, what good is a joke without a satisfying punch line?
- Sep 13, 2006