September 17, 2006

Movie Review: The Black Dahlia

The trailer held so much promise. Brian De Palma directing a noirish tale of a true unsolved Hollywood murder mystery, a decent looking cast, and a stylish look all add up to something that could be very impressive film. What went wrong? I think the first, and most important, misstep is in the advertising. The Black Dahlia is being advertised as a pure murder mystery, when it is actually more than that, the mystery is an element, but it involves a number of threads weaving together into a loose tapestry.

This film is a ficitonalized take on the real murder, based on the novel by James Ellroy. The murder is used as a backdrop to the drama surrounding Bucky Bleichert, Lee Blanchard, and Kay Lake, amidst police corruption, sexual politics, and personal vendettas. De Palma and screenwriter Josh Friedman have combined to craft an intriguing noir that is all style and very little substance. It's not that this is a bad thing, but the potential that was contained here was enormous, there was a potential classic contained in this combination of creative talent. De Palma does succeed at delivering a gorgeous looking film, even if the story leaves something to be desired.

Bucky and Blanchard, played by Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart, are a couple of LA cops who are used by the department for their pugilist pasts to drum up support for an unpopular bill. The duo go on to become a successful team, but while tracking a killer, they get sidetracked by the discovery of the body of starlet Elizabeth Ann Short. She was killed in one of the most grisly Hollywood murders of all time.

The story follows Bucky and Blanchard from their boxing match/publicity stunt to their partnership, both on and of the street, as they both have some sort of undefined relationship with Kay (Scarlett Johansson). Kay and Blanchard both become concerned over the impending release of a man from their past who may be looking for revenge. That occurs just as Blanchard finds himself being sucked into the Dahlia murder, obsessing over every detail. Meanwhile, Bucky is also looking into the murder, which finds him meeting with Madeleine Linscott, a rich woman who may know more than what she is letting on, as she uses Bucky, and vice versa.

I did not find the story as engrossing as I had hoped. I found all of the plotlines and character arcs to be held together by the slimmest of threads. This hurt the overall narrative as it seemed to jump all over the place, we get little bits and pieces of this, a little bit of that, but nothing really seems to fit. I do not need to have the story explained to me, but I would like a stronger cohesion in the story itself, so that when hints are dropped, it does not feel like they are pieces to the same puzzle. I look at the pieces, then at the cover image and it looks like a few puzzles have been mixed together. It isn't until the end when it is decided that all of those pieces will be forced into place, creating a final image that works, but is more Dali than Kinkade.

Despite the story issues, there is much to like about the movie. I loved the look of the film, evoking the era of which it is attempting to recreate. The look, the acting, everything comes together, albeit not perfectly, to effectively recreate the 1940s. It is almost like watching a film from the era, rather than a film about real (sort of) events of the time.

The acting is good all around. Josh Hartnett held his own as the hard boiled detective, caught between worlds, so to speak. Aaron Eckhart played an intriguing role, taking Blanchard over the top in his obsession. The women of the film were also quite good, most notably Mia Kershner, as Beth Short, brings a striking humanity to her role, just making you feel even worse about what happened to her. Both Johansson and Hilary Swank were effective. Generally, the issues were more with the way everything was pieced together, rather than anything the actors did or didn't do.

I would have to say that the best part was the cinematography and all of the camera moves used to evoke that bygone era. The camera is in a constant state of motion, swooping and movign around the subjects to help force a mood. It is truly striking to watch. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the score from Mark Isham, I really enjoyed the music that he has crafted for The Black Dahlia.

Bottomline. Uber-stylish self concious film noir. This is a fascinating film to watch, even as the story sputters along, there is always something to look at. The acting is good, directing and cinematography were excellent. This is one to see on the big screen, just don't expect to completely understand the motives.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Post a Comment