REVIEW: The Black Dahlia [2006]

“Fire and Ice”

I will preface this review with the fact that I am a big Brian De Palma apologist. I have not seen a movie by him that I didn’t like. Whether mainstream hits like Scarface and The Untouchables, indie favs like Sisters and Femme Fatale, or even the surreal camp that is The Phantom of the Paradise, I love them all. Therefore I tried to disregard all the bad press surrounding The Black Dahlia’s release as I figured no matter how bad people thought it was I would at least enjoy it. For the first three quarters or so I was really into this tale of a city’s underground narrated by one of its’ boxers turned cops. Even though the final act tries to sew up all loose ends of the murder, (that has never been solved in real life), very rapidly and with every character we have met during the duration, I still must admit I enjoyed the ride.

With all the trailers showing footage of the beautiful Mia Kirshner as Elizabeth Short in her screen tests and the words “Hollywood’s most infamous unsolved murders” I assumed the film was going to be about the crime and its subsequent case. Instead we are given a story around a former boxer turned police detective, Bucky Bleichert. Our narrator is surprisingly played well by Josh Hartnett who has really showed some skill over the past couple years and may not be the untalented pretty boy I first thought; even his young looks are masked at times by a face etched in the pain of life. Bleichert is trying to fix his life by getting a job he is passionate about, finding a suitable place for his dementia-ridden father, and meeting friends that he cares for. These friends are his partner Lee Blanchard, played with nice intensity by Aaron Eckhart, and Kay Lake, played unobtrusively by Scarlett Johansson. The three make an inseparable group, with the boys making a name for themselves in crime fighting. It is the coincidence of an old criminal getting out of jail and the gruesome death of young actress Short that spins their world into chaos as the leads show how fallible they are.

I really enjoyed the subdued color palette and resemblance to old 40’s film style that the aesthetics had. The acting was a bit over the top, especially Hilary Swank, but never went too far except in select cases. De Palma has really spun James Ellroy’s novel into a hard-boiled noir that feels straight out of an old crime novel, dialogue included. With everything going on though, I believe he should have stayed with the insight into Bucky Bleichert’s life. Short’s Black Dahlia plays a small role in the proceedings by really only causing the spring-boarding of Blanchard’s decent to vengeance and Bucky’s need to be with Swank’s Madeleine. By deciding to all of a sudden wrap up the case, after all parts of the main story about our trio of friends had been completed, the end feels tacked on and very rushed. It is also here where the eccentrics come out for some laughable monologues and craziness, (although I loved William Finley’s role and that De Palma still finds a part for him in his new films). When Eckhart and Johansson all but disappear from the screen for large chunks of time, it is the emotions going through Hartnett’s character that keep the plot moving. Once he all of a sudden becomes interested in finding Short’s killer, when previously not wanting to touch the case, it works in regards that he has been in contact with the perpetrators but not to the film we have been watching.

De Palma gets an A-plus for the art design and style he clearly set out to show and run with. The muddled color palette was effective as well as the stark black and white, fullframe screen test footage of Kirshner. This old footage was spliced nicely and utilized as both flashback to her character and evidence to steer our leads through the story. It’s unfortunate that De Palma felt the need to solve the case when the film wasn’t leading us in that direction. Yes I’m sure the novel had that as the ending, however, once he realized how much effort he had put into the characters he should have not done them the injustice by wrapping the film up so neatly and quickly. Because of this, what was at first a nice period piece and moody telling of crime in Hollywood became a contrived murder mystery solved.

The Black Dahlia 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] Ofcr. Dwight ‘Bucky’ Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Sgt. Leland ‘Lee’ Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) in Universal Pictures’ The Black Dahlia – 2006
[2] Mia Kirshner as Elizabeth Short in Universal Pictures’ The Black Dahlia – 2006


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.