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over-the-top mess
cornflakeboy2016 September 2006
Anybody expecting to get a great account of the Black Dahlia case, even fictional, will be disappointed going in to this movie. Of course, I knew that it was a fictionalization of the case, but I had no idea the movie would present its own evidence and draw its own conclusions.

But the main problem here is not the lack of factual detail, so much as the confusion of plot that surrounds and overwhelms the Black Dahlia case itself. So much plot and character and sideplots and backstory are built around the central characters that the case itself seems like a distraction. A key plot point and character motivator is the fascination of the two detectives with the murder, but this is never elaborated enough in the film, and we're left to half-heartedly guess at the character motivations.

The tone is never consistently campy, but when the camp arrives it overwhelms the story. A dinner scene between a suspect and her family had the crowd in stitches (the only scene during which the audience laughed). The problem is that the scene is valuable to the plot and should never have been played for laughs. Hitchcock or even Lynch could have shot the same scene, with the same events and dialogue, and made it menacing and creepy, which it needed to be to function in the mystery.

Other problems: De Palma uses the lesbian angle of the movie (never a part of the case) to full exploitative advantage, and the actresses seem unable to master to the expressive 1940s style acting that would have come naturally to even a marginal 40s star.

Although the film brings a clearcut finale rather than a vague puzzle, too many loose threads come together too neatly and rather than bringing the film to a satisfactory conclusion, it leaves you scratching your head, is this what I spent the last 2 hours waiting to hear? Overall, there is too much plot, too little character development and a wildly uneven tone. The movie has its moments but it's a blinding mess all together.
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Disjointed murder in the first degree
JohnDeSando12 September 2006
"For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak/With most miraculous organ." Shakespeare's Hamlet

Murders are messy on the screen and in real life; screenplays about them can be chaotic and disjointed also. Such is the case with Black Dahlia, a film noir from Brian De Palma, a past master of the macabre and the complicated (Blow Out, Body Double). It has all the trappings of a first-rate detective novel (James Ellroy) made into a 1940's thriller with appropriately moody music of the soulful trumpet (Mark Isham), lush production design (Dante Ferretti), and equally impressive costuming (Jenny Beavan), all set in a timelessly seedy Los Angeles.

There's also the conflicted, sometimes dark hero detective (Josh Hartnett) and the sexy, dangerous femme fatale (Hilary Swank), accompanied by the questionably good voluptuary sex bomb (Scarlett Johansson). As if these noir troublemakers were not enough, writer Josh Friedman seemingly adapts Ellroy's every subplot, every story thread, as if each had to be accounted for in the best CSI tradition.

The original novel was based on aspiring actress Elizabeth Short's unsolved grizzly murder in 1947. After a considerably convoluted exposition, with plot lines rarely intersecting in a unified way, the film has the nerve to offer one of the most extensive denouements in film history, could be a half hour, with lengthy explanation of how all those ends tied together. Needless to say, anti climaxes abound in this last segment, leaving not only more confusion about the plot but also a desire to get back to The Big Sleep without sleeping, a state Black Dahlia threatened several times.

Hartnett's detective says, "Nothing stays buried forever. Nothing." I say this weak noir wannabe should stay buried until a bright 22nd century scholar sees its cultural and aesthetic significance. Until then, it's a jumble of plot points resolved in the end by tedious narration. Even Scarlett Johansson's pulchritude couldn't win me, and that's murder in the first degree.
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De Palma Falters with So-So Take on Film Noir
dglink15 September 2006
Dante Ferretti's set design beautifully evokes the 1940's; Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography enhances the period look; and the voice-over narration has been pulled from film-noir classics. While Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia" has much of the look and feel of Curtis Hanson's 1997 "L.A. Confidential," that far superior film boasted better performances and a well-written screenplay. Although both films were based on James Ellroy novels and both had complicated, involved plots, the Hanson film came together with satisfying logic. Unfortunately, De Palma's movie is equally if not more complex and leaves a few threads dangling or at least badly frayed.

Although loosely based on a famous Hollywood murder, "The Black Dahlia" spends more time than necessary in establishing the three-way partnership, if not ménage, between Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, and Aaron Eckhart. The leisurely pace allows viewers to ponder the last time that they saw a film with so many double letters in the stars' names. The trailer, which has played in theaters for weeks, was misleading, and the actual murder and resulting investigation do not begin until well into the film after we have witnessed boxing scenes between the police investigators, Hartnett and Eckhart, and some three-way flirtations that do little to advance the proceedings.

The film only becomes interesting when the campy upper crust Linscott family enters. Hilary Swank as Madeleine Linscott is a deadly femme in black and as fatale as they come. Fiona Shaw as her mother shamelessly steals scenes and chews the banisters in her few minutes on screen, and John Kavanagh as Emmet Linscott adds to the family's quirky personality. An entire film could have been constructed around the Linscotts that would have been far more interesting than the Hartnett-Johansson-Eckhart romance. Scarlett has little to do but purse her luscious red lips and look desirable in tight blouses, which she does quite well. Josh is all squinty-eyed intensity and muscled charm, which he does quite well. Aaron tries for more, but goes a bit over the top; perhaps he would have been more comfortable playing a cousin of the Linscotts.

Although "The Black Dahlia" is not the worst way to spend two hours, the film's pedigree would lead viewers to expect more. Only a week after the less-disappointing "Hollywoodland," De Palma's take on another old Hollywood mystery should have been riveting. All of the essentials were there, except possibly a seasoned troop of stars, for another "L.A. Confidential." Unfortunately, what arrived was a nearly indecipherable mystery within a tedious love triangle that was wrapped in multi-million dollar production values.
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Interesting and stylish, but disappointing overall
DonFishies15 September 2006
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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Flat, constipated bore
fertilecelluloid16 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I wanted to love it, but Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia" is a flat, paceless, uninvolving, constipated bore. It bears few of the director's signature set pieces, and possesses none of the energy of classics like "Body Double". "Dressed To Kill", "Blow Out" and "Scarface". Based on the rambling, seedy novel by James Elroy, which I read and enjoyed very much over a decade ago, this filmization of the novel fails in its casting, structure and set design. Although the film's period Los Angeles has all the trappings of ye olde Hollywoodland, it looks like a movie set. Josh Hartnett is totally unconvincing in his central role, as is the highly masculine Hillary Swank as a "femme fatale" (give me a break! she belongs in an Almodovar movie!) who sucks Hartnett into a convoluted web and her unappealing mouth. Scarlett Johannsen, who looks ravishing in a shot or two, is weak as water, and owns little screen presence. The narrative is unbelievably matter-of-fact and most of the film's surprise "revelations" are plain silly. More conservative critics have focused on the film's "sleaze" and "trashiness". If ONLY there was more sleaze and trash. This is lightweight film noir that will will send most viewers back to the video store to rent the DVD of "LA Confidential", an excellent adaptation of another Elroy novel. This turgid celluloid clunker is something I will soon forget.
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Hell, I liked it! Sue me!
siderite1 January 2007
Having read so many negative reviews, I started doubting my own rating for a minute, but no, I will rate this above average. It may not much for people knowing what the Black Dahlia murders were all about or that read the book, but for a movie, it was good.

The film has the feel of L.A. Confidential (but it's not that good) or maybe more like Where the Truth Lies and is beautifully shot. The story itself is somehow convoluted, but it all becomes somewhat clearer in the end. Yes, the plot does have some holes in it and some acting is not so convincing as it should be, but saying Josh Hartnett didn't act is just lame. He plays a less emotional person than others and he was very well cast for the role. Some of the script scenes were weak, that's one thing an actor can't change.

Bottom line: watch it in a slow night, when you feel like seeing a movie that removes you from everyday life. This is not exactly a noir film, but it's close enough.
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Black Dahlia, a black hole in the movie making universe
MovieZoo15 September 2006
Brace yourself for some real truth. As you noticed on IMDb, this movie was advertised as "Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller". The trailer makes the movie look the same. Unfortunately, if you go to this movie with that in mind, you may and should be disappointed. When I see the genre described as it was, I want to see just that. Oh, you can add comic relief, maybe good music, some reasonable horror and nostalgia, but do not do what was done to The Black Dahlia.

They obviously didn't intend to make this a serious movie, but rather it was a cheap attempt to imitate a Film Noir sometimes, a TV mystery sometimes and then other times I don't think they knew what they actually wanted to do.

When I am sucked into a movie that I believe is going to be a mystery, I want to be able to enjoy the movie throughout and get involved in the mystery. In this case, the viewer has to spend far too much time trying to figure out what the movie is trying to do. Just give me the mystery that the movie is about. No one needs to make the movie-making process a mystery.

For those of you who are going just to see Scarlett Johansson, I have to say I am very disappointed in her. Her acting needs a lot of improvement or she needs to find movies that embrace her sensuality. Yeah, she is sexy in this movie, too, but her voice does not fit her actions and her acting is puzzling, not mysterious. I want the Scarlett I knew from "Lost In Translation" and "American Rhapsody" at least she could act and her voice fit her character. Other main characters were just as puzzling, however. And honestly, the best and most interesting characters were treated somewhat like extras, though one of those "extras" was by far the best actress in the movie.

You can call this an imitation Film Noir Graphic Novel that should have taken a more serious approach to even those genres.

I gave it a 4 out of 10 out of generosity.
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visually dazzling but ultimately disappointing
soriano32928 September 2006
Brian De Palma's so called "film noir" has all the aspects of a great film: detectives, guns, murder, a beautiful blonde, an Oscar winning brunette, and a boxing match. It involves violence, money, pimps, porn, and "the most notorious murder in California history". Sadly though, the movie just doesn't cut it.

The Black Dahlia isn't about murder, or guns, or pimps or porn. The Black Dahlia is about the new American dream: to sleep with Scarlett Johansson. The Dahlia isn't even introduced until a third of the movie is over, the longest 45 minutes I've ever experienced in cinema. A good hour of the movie doesn't have anything to do with the plot, and watching it is just like watching paint dry. Much of this wasted screen time is attributed to the relationship between Sgt. Leland "Lee" Blanchard (Aaron Eckert) and Officer. Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), where we see their transformation from enemies to partners to friends unrealistically fast, which is unrealistically cliché.

But the biggest downside of the movie is Josh Hartnett. What Hartnett is doing as a serious actor is beyond me, but his performance is a wooden as they come. It is unbelievable that he was considered for the role of Bleichert, and the fact that he was cast really makes me lose faith in Hollywood's mainstream actors. His noir-ish voice-over was like reading words off the script, making it feel less and less like the artsy film De Palma intended it to be.

The only redeeming feature of the flick was Mia Kirshner who had about one minute of screen time as the Dahlia, but was the most memorable character. Oh, yeah, and we do get to see Hilary Swank's ass.

But overall, The Black Dahlia is just another bad film to cap off the summer. It is extremely confusing with all its pointless sub-plots, and just gets annoying at the end. It's one of those movies you consider walking out of, and I counted down the minutes to what I thought would be a climactic finale, but was just a series of long monologues and unclear speaking. In the end, we learned little about the Dahlia, and were pretty much back where we started, except for a few missing comrades.
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Beautiful, Messy, Campy, Noirish, Smartly Idiotic
littlemartinarocena9 October 2006
Yes, all of it and more. The images are beautiful but what a mess. I don't need to understand what's going on if, at least, I'm entertained. Look at The Big Sleep for instance. There will never be another "Chinatown" I'm afraid, regardless of what Mr Ellroy thinks. The one element that sees you through this inconsequential mess is Josh Harnett's face. At times he looks as confused as I did and just as annoyed. Who can blame him? Hilary Swank, what was she doing? She looked like Vampyra's sister, the boring one. What a catastrophic piece of casting. And Fiona Shaw? If the film had been all like her performance the flick could have had a chance at the campiest "noire" ever put on film ever. But not such luck. All this said and done, it's a De Palma movie and that counts for something. Black Dahlia is certainly better than Snake Eyes but as a De Palma fan I felt terribly let down.
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Brian De Palma's vision of the most notorious unsolved mystery:
Galina_movie_fan15 February 2007
I have only seen 16 movies released in 2006 and I think that "The Black Dahlia" (2006) directed by Brian De Palma is one of the most enjoyable. The way it walks, talks, sounds, and feels truly captivated me. It is a fantastic cinematic achievement. It is shocking, dark, very clever, and enormously beautiful. It is over the top but how would you make a movie about the investigation of the most notorious and gruesome never solved murder in Hollywood differently? I like this exploitative, overplayed, smoldering, overwhelming, cheesy, campy Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller (my favorite genres) with the evident elements of black comedy (the most favorite genre when it's done well). I don't deny that it has its problems but I still believe it is worth watching and rewatching, especially on DVD when you can stop it and return to the earlier scene to see what you might have missed the first time. "The Black Dahlia" is one of the rare films that make you forget all their flaws. I am still puzzled with the ending but I LOVE the movie; I could not take my eyes off the screen. The way De Palma uses light, shadows, his combination of colors, black and gold - my favorite, his use of stairways, and the way we first are allowed to notice the body - it is Art, noir film made by an Artist. Besides, I simply can't be indifferent to a movie that uses Cole Porter 's song "Love for Sale" which I adore as performed by k.d. lang.

The movie grabbed me with its visual grandeur, heated atmosphere of danger, dark, desperate mood and that's why I like it so much. I don't like it for its story - after all, it is one of the myriads of versions of what had actually happened 60 years ago, I don't admire it for the acting, even though, Mia Krishner as unfortunate Betty Short was heartbreaking and I did like Hillary Swank for the first time in my life (yes, I know that she is two times Oscar winner but I liked her here, when she said to herself, "Bucky...I'll try to remember... that" - it was a good acting, irony which I've never seen in her before.) I also believe that Fiona Shaw was wonderful in her role - it simply could not be played any differently and to make her character so over the top was an artistic achievement and not the lack of acting abilities as many viewers seem to believe.

I respect the movies that entertain me, excite me, and stay with me even if I see their weakness very well. "Black Dahlia" is one of these movies. I am perhaps one of very few viewers in the whole world who actually was satisfied with the ending and the big revelation before it. Yes, it is bizarre, and it is grotesque, but it fits the whole movie perfectly and when I mentioned earlier how clever the movie was, I meant, how well its creators explored just one of the evidences and using the works of literature, art, and earlier cinema, built the whole possible story behind the murder based on it. Once again, "The Black Dahlia" is IMO one of the best and most entertaining movies of last year which I enjoyed enormously.

Directed by the Artist with a unique vision and talent, "The Black Dahlia" will be appreciated as time goes by.
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The Storytellers Hands
tedg20 April 2007
Have you ever been with a master storyteller who is hot? I mean in person. Its an absolutely captivating thing, watching the craft of captivating you. Its a worthy experience, even when the story isn't good. In fact, its even better when they story isn't good. You might wonder for a while why such a talented teller would choose the material she has, but will fade as you fall under spell of the storyteller, undistracted by the story. It you are lucky, she'll be a hand dancer and you will simply allow your soul to move with the undermusic.

dePalma never bothers me when he chooses bad actors, stories and such. Its just not relevant to what he has to offer, and in fact sometimes I'm thankful that the story itself doesn't get in the way. "Mission to Mars" was rewarmed tacos, but the fact that it was served by a metaphoric, genuine Spanish grandmother from her own hands was all that mattered.

About 22 minutes into this there is a wonderful crane shot, probably done without artificial assistance, beginning five minutes which is the heart of the overly complex story. It sets up two apparently unrelated threads in the story that interweave from this point. It is of the front of a building where later there will be a shooting, moves up and over the building to look at a vacant lot behind where we see a woman making a gruesome discovery. She runs to the street alongside the building where we see the car of our two cops coming to park in front and engage in a shooting. We move in front of the car to a bicyclist, who plays no role in the story. He brings us to a couple walking down the sidewalk approaching the front of the building where they will encounter our cops. We come down to street height and listen in on their conversation.

Its masterful. Even if you think everything that follows is a mess, its a glorious mess made glorious by our setting of the knitting needles.

This, my friends, is what noir is about these days: establishing an eye of god who both is us and who perturbs nature to suit conventions of coincidence in storytelling.

But there's another joy here too. The story — no surprise — features a film within the film. Its the whole story, there, with elements of that internal film overlapping the main story in three or four significant ways. The star of this inner film, who also is our bisected victim is a character played by Mia Kirshner. She's so much more alive and real than anyone else in the main story, I can only assume it was deliberate and a truly thrilling risk. If you follow film, you'll know her very similar and hugely complex role in "Exotica," a landmark film.

Two major experiences in a film! Of course its worth watching!

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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Almost the Heaven's Gate of Film Noir
lmharnisch16 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"The Black Dahlia" is a long, bloated, confusing, self-important, self-consciously artsy movie undermined by miscasting, absurd plot turns, naive symbolism, an utter disdain for history and laughable overacting that make Robert Towne's ponderous, plodding "Chinatown" sequel, "Two Jakes" (1990), look like a taut thriller.

The most marked difference between "Dahlia" and other classics of the more recent genre is that although "L.A. Confidential" is firmly planted in the 1950s and "Chinatown" takes place in the 1930s, De Palma's film has shallow roots "once upon a time in Los Angeles." Clearly, a movie nominally set in 1943-47 in which the lead characters attend a silent movie ("The Man Who Laughs, " 1928--note that the characters are sitting in the balcony, which was reserved for blacks back in the ugly days of segregation. Oops!) has nothing but contempt for the past, which is reflected in a thousand ways, from male actors' scruffy haircuts and inability to wear hats properly to a laughable lesbian nightclub scene featuring K.D. Lang in top hat and tails singing "Love for Sale," which rather than depicting the classic film noir era is most evocative of "Bugsy Malone," a far more accurate film.

One can find fatal flaws in virtually every area of this movie with little effort—in fact the most difficult task in critiquing the film is remembering everything that's wrong with it.

First, there's Josh Friedman's dialog: "She looks like that dead girl! How sick are you?"—not quite "She's my sister and my daughter," is it? Then there's miscasting (at 31, Kirshner is much too old to play the 22-year-old Black Dahlia), opulent production design by Dante Ferretti (police officers lived like this on LAPD pay? Who knew?), music (Mark Isham in the entirely predictable "cue mournful trumpet" genre), odd costuming—Friday casual for the men, fall collection for the women—(Jenny Beavan), down to the crowd scenes, which are busy to the point of distraction. And I wish I had the cigarette holder franchise on this film. I would be a rich man.

Even special effects are misused, with an earthquake that serves no purpose except to underline an obvious plot turn. Granted, the overly complex story is almost impossible to follow, but in this instance, De Palma must assume the audience has an IQ of about 50. And unlike the shocking and painfully realistic nose-slitting scene in "Chinatown," the far worse violence inflicted on the Black Dahlia is amusingly fake. If De Palma was hoping to make a slasher flick, he failed badly.

Nor does Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography escape a rap on the knuckles for a ridiculous lesbian stag film (presumably made at a cost surpassing the combined budgets of all blue movies produced from the 1920s to the 1950s), and a self-conscious and overly elaborate shot in which partners Blanchard (Eckhart) and Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) engage in a shootout, followed by the camera slowly rising up floor by floor of an entire apartment building, proceeding to a befuddling shot of the building's roof before it at last discovers the Black Dahlia's body in a vacant lot in the adjoining block. As visual storytelling, this is a grandiose and miserable failure.

And then there's Fiona Shaw, who chews so much scenery that she must have been rushed to an oral surgeon to have the splinters removed.

For that matter—and perhaps this is what makes the heart of the film beat so faintly—there is very little of the Black Dahlia in "The Black Dahlia," who only surfaces far into the picture.

In fact, the first 30 or 40 minutes are devoted to boxing matches between the two detectives, nicknamed "Fire" and "Ice" from the Symbolism 101 school of writing. (I know it's in the book, but that's no excuse).

So where is the Black Dahlia in this confusing mess? She exists entirely on film. Of course in real life, Elizabeth Short never got a screen test or even appeared in a school play, but De Palma gives her one and Kirshner, trying her best at the impossible task of acting 22, makes it as pitiful as possible with an intentionally miserable reading of Vivian Leigh's famous monologue from "Gone With the Wind."

The handling of the crime scene? Ridiculous even by Hollywood's lax standards. Vintage black-and-white police cars swarming the streets and detectives bellowing instructions like some shark-jumping 1970s cop show that any good investigator would already know. Ditto the morgue.

Then there's the contrasting love/sex scenes, and it's obvious De Palma hasn't a clue how to stage either one. The sex scene, between Harnett and Johansson, occurs in the dining room, when, overcome with passion, Bleichert rips away the tablecloth, sending dishes everywhere, and has his way with Lake. Isham's score is lushly romantic, an oddly contrasting choice of music, and amour like this is sure tough on the Havilland china and the Baccarat crystal.

The love scene, between Swank and Harnett, is just as amusing with Bleichert and Linscott having a little pillow talk while she's wearing nothing but huge pearl earrings and a long matching necklace with pearls the size of small onions, ensuring, I would imagine, a rather bumpy ride.

And about those crazy Linscotts. Bleichert knows exactly how to make rich people confess to murder: Use their valuable antiques for target practice. The last time I checked, police revolvers hold six rounds, so unless Bleichert was planning to fight off one of them as he reloaded I can't imagine what he thought he would do after his sixth question. Then again, not everybody can send a crystal chandelier crashing to the floor with one shot—some of us need two.

And while you're at it, Bucky, take out a couple of those clown paintings, please.
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Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I LIKED this
preppy-321 September 2006
Fictional movie based on a real unsolved Hollywood murder in the 1940s. The mutilated body of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirschner) is found in an empty lot. Officer Dwight Bleichert (Josh Harnett) and Sgt. Leland Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) are assigned to the case. Blanchard becomes obsessed with the case causing troubles with his girlfriend Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). She then falls for Bleichert. Then there are more murders and lesbians and incest are thrown in...

The plot is a little too convoluted but so was the book (by Jack Ellroy). To be totally honest I can't understand why this is getting blasted by the critics. It's no masterpiece but it's 100 times better than director Brian DePalma's last film (2002's terrible "Femme Fatale") and probably his best work since 1996's "Mission Impossible". The 1940s setting is beautifully captured with clothes and settings--this film really looks great. DePalma once again gives us some incredible visual sequences--one murder is downright terrifying and one of the best things he's done in years. Also the plot, while involved, does reach a logical, satisfying conclusion. However the film isn't perfect.

There's a lesbian bar here that's really overdone. It's beautiful, with a ridiculously elaborate stage show--but in 1940s Hollywood? I don't think so. The acting is all over the place. Eckhart OVERACTS to a ridiculous degree. Hartnett is terrible (no surprise there) but so are Johansson and Hilary Swank (both wonderful actresses). It seems like Harnett's presence bring them down to his level of non acting. Last, and least, is English actress Fiona Lewis who is certainly acting but not in this picture. She overdoes it so much she makes Eckhart look restrained.

So I DID like it but with a tighter story and a better leading man this might have been great. As it stands it's a very good, well-made movie with some questionable acting. I give it a 7.
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I'm surprised to the bad reaction to this film
XweAponX10 May 2007
I have a problem: I am swayed by bad reviews. But I have found out through 30 years of experience that if a lot of people say something is bad, that I ought to see it.

I had seen this film on the rental shelves for about 3 months before I finally rented it: I watched it. Then I watched all of the extra stuff. Then I watched the film a second time. The next day I watched it again.

So, first off, it is well cast. A highly distracted person (IE, someone who is too busy getting popcorn or continuously getting up to answer the phone or go to the bathroom) is highly apt to give this a poor review, probably based on Aaron Eckharts performance, which does not seem to make sense.

A film shows you certain things about what is going on, a good film actually reveals itself in the first few acts, and gives the viewer all kinds of clues as to what is going on. The pleasure comes when you are still surprised by the outcome even with such clues in place.

With the above in consideration, I had to know that there was a reason for Eckharts insane obsession with the case. Maybe I was let down a little with that reason (Which I will not give as it is a spoiler) but I was happy with the fact that there WAS a reason for his irrational behavior.

Most of the cast was fairly acceptable. I was considerably happy that Hilary Swank was given a more exotic role to play in direct contract to roles she has played recently. The girl who played the actual Black Dahlia was an incredible find.

If you want to enjoy this film, watch it and pay attention to it- Depalma rarely disappoints. A lot of people however, might be disturbed by the subject material, and if that is the source of the "public opinion" of this film, than that is understandable.

What people do not understand, is that this film is acted and played out just like a black and white film from the late 40's- Early 50's.

Classic film buffs probably love this, but I am sure that the person who goes to movies with a lot of explosions, car chases, and fake looking CGI will not like it at all.

My only complaint is that it was not filmed in B&W- But the sets, and the locations... I believed I was in "Hollywoodland" so to speak.

I just had to add this, after browsing through the BAD reviews of this film:

I respect the movie-making PROCESS too much to just say nothing about this... What would this kind of activity be? Take the time and go through the negative reviews- And you will see that there are a few duplicates. Actually, more than a few... Quite a few. What is that? What does it mean? What would that be called? Shills? It is like in Mr. Smith does to Washington, that fat guy played by Edward Albert - got on the phone and told all these people exactly what to say. Call out the Hoi Polloi, right? I can't tell for sure, but it FEELS like that happened here. If we shave out 60% of the negative reviews, then we will see the honest public opinion of this film.
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You know how you're at a company dinner? You have no idea who anyone is and you'll do anything to get out? That's what I felt watching this movie!
Smells_Like_Cheese30 September 2006
Ah, I should have listened to my sister, she warned me not to see this movie. But my friends actually literally dragged me, they had to bribe me with a free movie ticket, but still I will be honest, I went in with an open mind. After all, people have different tastes, may I say that I thank my friends, I feel so much better having an extra $9.50 in my pocket after seeing this crap.

I'm not sure if it was just too much to watch at one time or that maybe just plain up admit that the film makers had no idea what they were doing. This started off strangely as a boxing movie, then a police movie, then a murder mystery, then a love story, then... well, you get the idea. The acting was absolutely awful and cliceed, like when Scarlet and Josh are discussing the lose of their loved one, I won't give spoilers, but then they have sex on the table! Ha!

This is probably the worst movie of 2006, I'm warning you! Please, for your sake of insanity, this movie is absolute trash, believe me! You'll end up like me where you'll be dazed and confused for days to come! The acting, the directing, the script is just a complete waste of time. I can't believe how hyped up this movie was, I'm glad it ended up being a flop, I couldn't see it as anything else right now.

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Modern Noir
aharmas16 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
There are so many things to like about this film that it is hard to even consider the minor problems one encounters in its final third. True, it's a complex resolution, and some members of the audience are going to find something to complain about; yet overall, the film delivers, and when it shines, it's amazing.

Brian De Palma has been an underrated talent for most of his career. People have found some of his films objectionable because of their content. Interestingly enough, critics and other award organizations had no problem honoring people like Scorcese, even though his films are characterized by much violence, too. Still De Palma has given us classic cinema moments and has directed some terrific award winning performances as well. In here, there are two outstanding turns: Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank. The former shines as the complex and mysterious cop who might have a few skeletons in his closet, and Swank tears the screen with her femme fatale that honors the film noir tradition that De Palma has fully revived in "Dahlia".

The film has an impeccable production team that recreates a period that was exciting and remarkable in cinema. Here are the dark parts of the city with its very interesting inhabitants. If you are in a noir film, odds are you have something questionable in your past, and "Dahlia" doesn't disappoint introducing us to people who have no qualms taking advantage of others, or having no remorse at all, regardless of how depraved the crime might be.

I like the way De Palma balances innocence and evil, and how nothing is truly black and white. Did Short bring upon her the terrible fate that she met? Was is it just plain luck that she ran into the sick people who eventually destroyed her? How does one justify such actions? There is no judgement offered by De Palma, but he tempts to audience to weigh in an opinion and still leaves you full of questions.

The film is no "Chinatown". That was a masterpiece where every element was perfectly balanced. Here there is something missing at the core and some casting choices might be questonable. However, Swank recalls the great cinema actresses of the noir era and does the stereotypes justice. She makes the experience enjoyable. If "Hollywoodland" had someone like De Palma at the helm, that film would have caught fire. Or I wonder what would have happened if Diane Lane had played one of the female parts here? I'm glad De Palma had a chance to work on this film and present us with a rare treat, a film that dares to go where few do. It's a great film.
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Watch the story of Elizabeth Short get mangled worse than her corpse
Craig_McPherson16 September 2006
In 1947 at the age of 22, Elizabeth Short, an aspiring actress, was found murdered in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. Her body had been severely mutilated and cut in half at the waist. The case was nicknamed "The Black Dahlia" by newspaper reporters seeking to capitalize on the then-popular movie "The Blue Dahlia" which was enjoying its theatre run at the time.

The case remains unsolved, although at its peak police suspects included Norman Chandler, the Publisher of the Los Angeles Times, and folksinger Woody Guthrie. More recently true crime authors have gone so far as to speculate that Orson Wells was the killer.

Enter novelist James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) and Director Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Scarface, Dressed to Kill), who had signed on to bring Ellroy's novel based on the case to the big screen in a film-noir homage to movies like Double Indemnity. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that with the talents of these two behind the camera, and the on screen presence of Scarlett Johansson, Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart and Hillary Swank, The Black Dahlia would be a delightfully dark fedora-filled pot boiler that would be entertaining from beginning to end.

Sadly, such is not the case. Instead what gets served up is a muddled, confusing and at times hysterically over-acted movie that seems to treat the actual Dahlia case as mere window dressing for other, less engrossing story lines. There are no less that three plots to this film, all of them seemingly competing against the Dahlia murder mystery for top billing. In fact, at times I got the impression that Ellroy's script would rather delve into anything else, other than the actual murder, as if looking for any excuse not to get in sync with the film's title.

It's too bad because among this film's few highlights are the screen test clips featuring a glimpse into the soul of Elizabeth (Betty) Short, played mesmerizingly by the stunning Mia Kirshner.

I couldn't help but feel that if Ellroy and De Palma had jettisoned some of the extraneous competing plots, and instead placed their focus on telling more of Short's back story rather than the confused gumshoe narrative that they went with, the end result would have been a vastly superior film.
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Bad... Bad... Bad -- yet it took 21 "producers" to make this film.
BoingyBaxter9 January 2007
How many producers does it take to screw up a movie? In the case of The Black Dahlia it takes 21 "producers". I counted the credits to be sure. I guess all 21 producers didn't notice how phony the flame bars were in the opening fire scene. The only producer with any real credits is Art Linson. Perhaps what this film needed was a single producer, director, writer team that could focus on the story. And how about that acting? Johanson was miscast as was Swank (although Swank is generally a good actress in other films). The plot is convoluted beyond anyones general concept of the Black Dahlia story. I was told that this film was a real disappointment by my friends who saw it in a theatre, so I watched it on DVD and almost walked out of my own living room. On the positive side, the photography, production design and the music were acceptable. But is it just me or does most of the dialog sound like clichés from other film noir films? As others have pointed out this wanted to be L.A. Confidential or Chinatown, but came off as a poor imitation. To bad as I really wanted to love it...
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Stay, sugar. Stay.
the_Poppuns15 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know why but I loved that line. And I don't really know what I think about The Black Dahlia. I know that I like it. Well, I felt that I liked it. But having read most of the reviews that are trashing this movie, I don't disagree with them that much. They say that it's incoherent. I wouldn't go that far, but I'm not exactly sure what happened. But having seen other noir from De Palma, I know that I personally have to watch them more than once to catch everything that is going on. It was that way with Body Double and Femme Fatale, so when I knew I should be making connections in The Black Dahlia but it was going by too quickly for me, I knew that it will right itself when I see it again. Well, at least I believe it will.

The performances were great as far as I'm concerned so I don't agree with anyone who is knocking any of the actors. I really enjoyed Fiona Shaw. She has two great scenes at the end of which I felt like cheering. She was truly insane. Josh Hartnett is very good in the lead role and I wouldn't have thought of him for something like this, but he fits in perfectly. He and Eckhart have a great chemistry.

The most noticeable thing about The Black Dahlia is how gorgeous everything is. It's really luminous and dark at the same time. There were a few instances where I wished I could have paused the movie to just look at some of the shots a little longer. That's what I've always loved about noir, but it's so opulent here that I can't think of another movie that even comes close except maybe Road to Perdition.

This is the kind of movie you really can't recommend to everyone. You have to know the person you're advising to see it pretty well. It's for noir fans, who maybe have seen De Palma's work before and will understand it. It's not for CSI types, although the trailers may make it seem like it would be. There is very little investigation, it's more like series of mysteries with a series of revelations that just happen. I would almost think that everyone who liked Mulholland Dr. would like this, but anyone who prefers those movies where Ashley Judd solves crimes probably would not.

edit: after seeing the movie again on DVD, I do understand it much better and it makes perfect sense. It's a shame that movies like this can be dismissed because of their complexity.
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Another nail in the coffin of a one-time great
Leofwine_draca11 May 2011
Despite its po-faced earnestness and basis on real-life events, THE BLACK DAHLIA is a film that's difficult to take seriously. It's another subdued, soulless effort from Brian de Palma, the director who could once do no wrong between the 1970s and the early 1990s but who now, like John Carpenter, appears to have lost the talent he once had. This is an overlong film noir, a hardboiled crime yarn featuring a pair of boxers-turned-detectives investigating the Black Dahlia murder in '40s-era Los Angeles. You can sense from the outset that de Palm's heart isn't really in it and who can blame him? He's saddled with a pair of distinctively unimpressive actors as his leads. Aaron Eckhart can be great when he wants to be (think THE DARK KNIGHT) but he can do little with the square-jawed, one-dimensional hero type he plays here. Josh Hartnett (SIN CITY) has the deeper role but didn't appear anything other than bland to this viewer. While it's nice to see Hilary Swank playing against type for once, the female lead is played by the unfortunate Scarlett Johansson, one of those actresses I feel is seriously overrated. The way she delivers some of her lines in this movie…words fail me, suffice to say she's anything but believable.

The muddled plot goes through the tired old clichés, de Palma attempts to put some UNTOUCHABLES style into one slow-mo set-piece and fails, and the ending tries to tie everything up neatly in a contrived, Hollywood cliché type way. In fact it would be a good idea just to go back and watch the Kevin Costner starrer instead of this weak revisitation of a similar era.
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Great Start, Horrible Finish
ccthemovieman-125 January 2007
The first 45 minutes of this was a very, very pleasant surprise. That's probably because I read so many negative things about this film, I was expecting the worst. I was enthused, even heading into the second hour but as time went on I began to become less involved with the story. That's probably because none of the characters are likable people that I would care about. With no one to really root, after awhile the movie loses its appeal.

The worst part was the last 20 minutes. It was so sordid, it got absurd. It's too much corruption, sick people, ugly violence and nasty overall attitude. The "Linscott" family is so bad I could do little but just shake my head in disgust. The whole thing wound up too depressing. When it's over, you want to take a shower.

I loved the cinematography and overall 1940s film noir atmosphere. On that aspect alone, this movie almost was a keeper until they went overboard on the seedy stuff in the last 20 minutes. What a shame: this film had such potential.
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Bad News Folks: You May Have to Think
iago-618 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It's a little disappointing to read the reviews to this film. True, it is quite complex (I didn't figure it out until four hours after the movie ended), and will probably take two viewings to make sense of it all, but I think it is a very good film that rewards such attention.

The opening hour is fairly static and lays out a massive amount of information. I was getting a little antsy, feeling like the film was floundering, but, for me at least, the second hour just became more, and more, and more exciting. I had to pee for the final hour and could never find a safe time to leave my seat! In retrospect you need all that info in the first half in order to start reaping rewards during the second half, but I fear that most people have given up by that time.

It's unfortunate that people routinely confuse a character that is supposed to be very unemotional with a blank and lifeless performance. I didn't like Josh Harnett until I saw Wicker Park, in which I came to appreciate how he can go from reserved to emotional wreck in 0.3 seconds. He is playing an emotionally reserved character, folks! His nickname is "Mr. Ice," right?

And I'm afraid that the Eckhart character's story won't come into focus until you've sorted the entire movie out, which may be hours after the movie has ended. Here's my interpretation of the Lee story, including massive spoilers:

Spoilers! Lee was involved in crooked business with the Linscott family, Hilary Swank's family. This is why he knew that the criminal was going to be in the brothel at the beginning. When Harnett threw him the matchbook and he saw Linscott's name, he knew that their investigation into the Black Dahlia murder could expose his own wrongdoing and ruin him. This is why he gets so obsessed with solving the case, and also cannot speak to anyone about why he's so obsessed. Spoilers end!

Anyway, this is a very well put-together movie that does require a great deal of attention. It's unfortunate that modern audiences seem to need everything explained to them and are unwilling to do any thinking whatsoever, but it is fortunate that De Palma continues to ignore them and make movies as intelligent as he wants to make them.

---- Hey, if I haven't annoyed you, visit my website devoted (mostly) to bad and cheesy movies: Cinema de Merde. You can find the URL in my email address.
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The Black Dahlia
cultfilmfan16 September 2006
The Black Dahlia is based on the novel of the same name by James Ellroy. It takes place in the 1940's where two former boxers named Bucky and Lee become cops and are eventually assigned to a case involving a brutal murder of an aspiring actress named Elizabeth Short. The film shows the friendship between the two cops and how the case affects them (especially Lee) and how Bucky takes a shine to Lee's girl named Kay and how he also becomes involved with a suspect named Madeleine. The Black Dahlia has good direction, a good adapted screenplay, good performances by most of the cast, good cinematography, good film editing, good production design, good art direction, good set decoration and good costume design. In the 1940's there was a real murder case involving a young woman named Elizabeth Short who was found dead and mutilated and to this day her killer has never been found. Before seeing this film I thought it would be an actual account of the real life murder and investigation, but as the film went by I found out that this is just a fictionalized account of what author James Ellroy pictures happened back then and not what really happened. So, in other words this is not a based on a true story film and it is instead based on a book. That being said there were a lot of things I liked about this movie, but the film also had a lot of flaws as well. One complaint is that there are so many things going on in this movie it takes away from the Black Dahlia case which we assume the film will be about, but in reality it is only a side story in this film with other characters and story lines being focused on more. I thought a lot of the things going on in this film could have been left out and I would have just been glad if they had stuck with the Black Dahlia case. After awhile with all the different characters and things going on the film does tend to get a little confusing. I also found that some of this movie was really campy. Keep in mind I love offbeat films and I don't mind when certain films get campy, but when you take a serious movie like this and throw in camp it just doesn't suit the story and makes certain scenes feel really out of place. Two examples I can think of right off the top of my head are a passionate love making scene between the Bucky and Kay character on a kitchen table and Fiona Shaw who plays Madeleine's mother gives a truly embarrassing performance as the drunken mother. It was more laughable than serious and it almost makes you wonder if she was intoxicated while filming this. Personally, I would have also liked if this film stuck to a real story and followed the actual accounts of the Elizabeth Short murder, but perhaps seeing as it is unsolved there might not have been enough material to make a movie out of the real story. I'm not a screenwriter, so don't ask me. Reviewing the film as it stands though, I' am still giving it a very positive review because it was a very entertaining and compelling film and besides Fiona Shaw the acting is great, the film has style and looks great as well. Despite the silliness and the uneven parts of the film there is still an entertaining time to be had here and most of the time I was really enjoying this film, but had they fixed the few flaws I had with this it could have been a perfect movie instead of just a pretty good one. Still, I liked this movie a lot and if you don't care that this is just a fictionalized account of the story and there are some campy scenes then I suggest you see this movie for pure entertainment and as for style and atmosphere nobody does it better than director Brian De Palma.
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Playing dress-up...
moonspinner558 April 2011
It's Hollywood 1947, and two Los Angeles policeman (one with dirty hands, the other secretly involved with his partner's girlfriend) begin falling apart personally and professionally as their investigation into the brutal murder of an aspiring actress appears to be going nowhere. Inspired by the grisly real-life case of Elizabeth Short, found mutilated in an empty lot, this muddled, misguided faux-noir not only fails to shine any light on that incident--it besmirches the name of the deceased in the bargain! Director Brian De Palma's intentions seem true enough; while trying to invoke vintage detective yarns from Hollywood's past, he has stylized his picture to a late-night fare-thee-well. Unfortunately, De Palma's casting choices seem designated for box-office appeal, and very few of these actors match up well with their characters. Hilary Swank is decent as a would-be shady lady (with lesbian leanings), and Aaron Eckhart manages to convey the desperation of his conflicted cop well enough, but Josh Hartnett is a block of wood in the central role. Mia Kirshner plays Short as a pathetic hanger-on using sex as a stepping stone, however her "screen tests" (which were not a part of James Ellroy's source novel) are ridiculous, and in these cases De Palma's directorial judgment is clearly in question. The filmmaker's rhythm also seems off in the final third, with the climactic events buried underneath one miscalculation after another. *1/2 from ****
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Has NOTHING to do with the true Black Dahlia story!
Samualt15 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie could have been called absolutely anything. It shouldn't, however, have been called "The Black Dahlia." If your going to base a story on real events then there should be at least some similarities to the truth! This movie had no connection to any real events at all (The real life victim never made a film of any kind, porn or otherwise.) And, the fiction story that was presented was not all that enthralling. It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction, which is certainly true in this case. A story based on the real story of the Black Dahlia could have made an excellent movie. But they chose to create a total fiction with no basis in fact at all. I felt ripped off by this Black Dahlia impostor!
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