The Black Dahlia Review
by David Hartwell
September 20, 2006
Finding a good place to begin this review seems to be one of the hardest things I've had to do recently, in actuality it's the second; the hardest thing I've had to do recently has been to concentrate on Brian De Palma's latest thriller, The Black Dahlia. Now that doesn't mean that this film was completely unentertaining, just that it takes some effort on the audience's part to turn this crime drama into something completely satisfying. The Black Dahlia, though visually stunning (as seems to be the critical consensus), left me rather empty.
The film features the struggle of two L.A. police officers, Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) as they attempt to uncover the mystery behind a bizarre murder. The "Black Dahlia Murder," as it becomes known, leads these two officers of the law away from one nasty case and into another. They find their own weaknesses and corruption leading them off the course of uncovering the mystery of the murder, but seemingly unimportant events, however, have a way of coming back.
The weak interconnectivity among the primary characters, and the limited quality performances by both the seductive female lead, Scarlett Johansson, and Josh Hartnett, result in an overall disappointing film that even a mildly clever ending couldn't save.
The film did have its moments, though they were few and far between. Just when I felt that the story had no place to go, a new development in the case or in an individual's character would arise and force me to pay attention. But these moments usually led to more seemingly mindless melodrama until a new revelation was discovered. The repetitiveness made the 121 minute film feel much like 160 minutes.
I wish I could say that the visual splendor of the film made the story better, but that just isn't the case. Instead of accelerating the narrative, the film noir styling of the film merely forced it to move at the rate of a very intense curling match. The majority of the film seemed to be a veritable muscle flex of cinematography. Unfortunately, the cinematography is all that the movie could flex.
The Black Dahlia is undoubtedly not one of Brian De Palma's finest, but it is undoubtedly one of De Palma's. This is made clear with every camera move and angle as well as the overall direction the movie seemed to want to take. Any fan of Scarface or The Untouchables will recognize these obvious features.
As for the overall experience of the film, I wish it could have been more. It never gave me the opportunity to get "lost" in the screen world. And it gave me too much time to think about the fact that I am actually in a theater rather than on the streets of L.A. with the characters of the movie.
If you're looking for the next L.A. Confidential, sorry, no such luck. But there may still be something good in it for the true De Palma fans out there. It was a monotonously tedious crime thriller that spent too much time on its look and style and not enough time on its story and characters. Unfortunately for the movie and the audience, the few good moments didn't make up for the other 100 minutes of stylish lifelessness.