The Black Dahlia
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Brian De Palma
scr Josh Friedman
with Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw, John Kavanagh, Patrick Fischler, Troy Evans, James Otis, Jemima Rooper
release US/UK 15.Sep.06
06/US Universal 2h01

Trigger happy: Hartnett and Swank

eckhart johansson shaw


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The Black Dahlia Brian De Palma's inventive filmmaking style turns this adaptation of the complex James Ellroy novel into a feast for the eyes, even if it's tough work keeping up with the story.

Bucky Bleichert (Harnett) is a young cop in 1946 Los Angeles who's partnered with another former boxer, Lee Blanchard (Eckhart), on the homicide team. Their latest case is a hideously murdered young starlet (Kirshner in film clips). But Lee's obsession with the investigation annoys his girlfriend (Johansson), while Bucky indulges in a bit of inappropriate activity with a witness (Swank), who looks strangely like the black-haired victim. Soon the threads of their personal lives are completely entwined with various cases they're working on.

De Palma uses his fluid camera (elaborate crane shots, dizzying action, striking depth of field) and elegant design to create a terrific vision of 1940s L.A. that's dusty and glamorous at the same time, focussing on people who are often lying to the person they love. In other words, this is quintessential noir, and De Palma constantly references genre films--from Howard Hawks comedies to Alfred Hitchcock thrillers.

He also encourages the cast to play it in an arch, suggestive way, filling each line of dialog with lively insinuation, shadowy innuendo and pregnant pauses. This is most effective in the screwball-style opening section, in which Eckhart and Johansson sparkle with personality. As the film gets darker, Swank emerges as a wonderful steely-but-fragile femme fatale. Hartnett, who provides Raymond Chandler-style narration, is as dry as ever, although he does inject a few scenes with emotion and yearning. While Shaw gets the gonzo scene-chewing role--merging genteel repression with Baby Jane theatrics.

So it's a pity that the plot becomes so entangled with itself, as red herrings, irrelevant storylines and major events unfurl in every direction. It's a lot of work trying to make any sense out of it; and even if you do manage to keep on track, it doesn't quite hold water. But in a world made up so gloriously of every shade of grey, without a hint of black or white, we also hate to see the conclusion finally come into focus.

cert 15 strong themes, violence, language, sexuality 11.Sep.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Black Dahlia Laurie T, Minneapolis: "Our plans for the night got cancelled, so we had a choice, based on start times between this and Snakes on a Plane. Josh Hartnett really carried this movie - I felt he acted well and it was intriguing enough to keep me interested on the edge of my seat. I had read that it was based on a real unsolved murder - so this movie solves it. It is intriguing, and while I won't say it was a bad movie - I kinda wish I had gone to see Snakes on a Plane." (19.Sep.06)
2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall