Sorry, I have to say it. What is up with Brian de Palma? Scarface is a blip on his radar that is so much larger than anything else he has done it is glaring. Yeah, people like to act as if The Untouchables is some gangster drama masterpiece, but it is a plastic representation of the 1920s that seemed so far from realistic it was almost funny. However, The Black Dahlia can’t carry the weight of Scarface and can’t even get close enough to register against the second rate nature of The Untouchables. Dahlia is just as plastic as Untouchables but the story doesn’t have De Niro to fall back on to even give the most pompous of critics enough reason to gloat.
The Black Dahlia is based on a story from James Ellroy, the fella behind the over-rated crime drama L.A. Confidential, but I don’t think this film is going to have to worry about equal fan fare. The film begins as we meet Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), a couple of ex-boxers turned cop and both seem to have some silly ego thing going on. Their common bond, aside from detective work, is Blanchard’s wife Kay (Scarlett Johansson) but her appearance is neither interesting nor mysterious. Kay’s involvement in the story virtually dwindles down to added back story and a silly little love triangle while she supplies a supposed “steamy” sex scene that has already been so overrated there are going to be a lot of disappointed moviegoers looking for more Scar Jo skin than they are going to get. Don’t believe the hype.
The real story of The Black Dahlia is the mysterious unsolved murder of unknown actress Betty Ann Short (Mia Kirshner), the actual Black Dahlia. While I believe the film takes a good turn at trying to supply a satisfying out, at the end it really is far too simple for what is expected to be a mystery up to the final beat.
Lies, deception and eroticism own this film as it tries to find the truth behind the grisly murder of the Dahlia. However, aside from one simple non-plot threatening twist the story is all too simple to solve. As Bleichert begins to unravel the mystery, and his love affair for the supposed Dahlia look-a-like Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank) heats up, a majority of audience members will be approximately one hour ahead of any twist the story may offer. Unfortunately, if you aren’t ahead of the story it is most likely due to how boring this film is and you are most likely resting your eyes or just losing interest exponentially.
While Josh Hartnett continues to improve his acting skills from a small, yet interesting, part in Sin City, to his best performance in Lucky Number Slevin and an admirable performance here in Black Dahlia he is truly coming into his own, but that isn’t enough to save this pic. Aaron Eckhart is just as good as Hartnett in this flick but Scarlett Johansson’s talents seem to be dwindling. In Dahlia we see her playing a woman almost torn between the era in which the film is set (1940s) and present day. At times she plays the damsel in distress, at others a woman dealing with a personal tragedy and finally a woman torn between two loves. However you boil it down it is more of a distraction than an added plot wrinkle.
This talky tale of the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short is a snoozer and begins to lose steam the minute the investigation gets underway. Granted, de Palma enthusiasts may fall in love with this pic but I don’t see the love being tossed too far as mainstream audiences are sure to find this movie boring and far from the intriguing drama it should have and could have been.