Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006). Directed by Brian De Palma.

“I think you'd rather f--k me than kill me,” says Hilary Swank to detective Josh Hartnett in this adaptation of James Ellroy's novel, which pretty much sums up the tone of this rather silly movie. Brian De Palma once made some very well-crafted and entertaining pictures, but despite some elaborate scenic design and the duplication of the forties era, this is not one of his more memorable projects. The picture begins with a long, unnecessary prologue showing us how the detective team of Harnett and Aaron Eckhardt were originally boxers and how they square off against each other in the ring. Before long the two are not only partners but best buddies, forming a loose menage a trois with Eckhardt's girlfriend Scarlet Johansson. [Miss Johansson is either a mediocre actress or to be charitable is simply struggling with an impossible part.] Hilary Swank is much more on the mark as the stereotypical sexy, amoral rich gal, Madelaine, who dallies with Hartnett when he investigates her family in connection with the murder of [the real life] Elizabeth Short. One gets the impression that neither De Palma or anyone else connected to the movie cares that much about Short, The Black Dahlia, or anything else. The script by Josh Friedman is terribly confused and disjointed and the movie takes forever to sustain some interest. There is a hilarious scene in an alleged lesbian nightclub that could only be in a Hollywood movie, with stages and stairs out of Busby Berkeley and k.d. lang making a guest-appearance on the landing as a vocalist surrounded by chorus cuties. The movie has its compelling moments and entertaining scenes but by and large it just doesn't convince. Hartnett and Eckhardt are fine, however, and the picture is nearly stolen by Swank's mother (Fioria Shaw), who gets drunk and bitchy at dinner, to say the least. De Palma doesn't seem to care anymore about camera movements and angles and stylishness, and Black Dahlia can certainly not be seen as a memorial to the dead fifteen-year-old child, Elizabeth Short. The filmmaker doesn't seem to get that she was a minor being exploited by adults, a cycle which, frankly, this movie seems to be continuing.
Verdict: Overbaked and clumsy. **.

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