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September 2006
The Black Dahlia

By Wilson Morales

The Black Dahlia

Distributor: Focus Features
Director: Allen Coulter
Screenwriter: Paul Bernbaum
Cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Afflleck, Bob Hoskins, Lois Smith, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Steve Adams, Jordan Barker, Donald Burda, Larry Cedar, Brad William Henke, Joe Spano, Jeff Teravainen
Rated R for sex, expletives and violence.

Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenwriter: Josh Friedman
Cinematographer: Vilmos Zsigmond
Composer: Mark Isham
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Mia Kirshner, and Hilary Swank


Whenever a Brian De Palma film comes along, you can certainly expect a sense of style to go with the film. He does know how to add flavor to the story. From “Snake Eyes” to “Femme Fatale” to his more recent film, ‘The Black Dahlia”, he’s looking to bring back the film noir genre and for the most part, the film holds your attention. There’s enough substance, intrigue, and romance as far as elements are concerned, but the problem with his films as of late, is that he adds too many layers to the story that the films falls apart in the end, which is the case with The Black Dahlia. Although the list of names in the film such as Hartnett, Johansson, Swank, and Eckhart is enough to lure you in the theater, you’ll end up going to Blockbusters afterwards or tuning to American Movie Classics on TV to find films of yesteryear when looking for a good film noir.

Although “The Black Dahlia” is actually a real life case involving the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, the film is based on the fictional novel written by James Ellroy. Starting off with a narration, we are introduced to LA Detective Bucky Bleichert (Hartnett), a young boxer turned cop looking to fit in with the force. When he’s partnered with Detective Lee Blanchard (Eckhart), Bucky is in for something he wasn’t expecting. Blanchard is the type of cop always looking to make a name for himself and rise within the force in days and months, not years. Since he too was a boxer, his bouts with Blanchard make headlines and money for the force, and gets the two of them their pick of choice when it comes to assignments and case. While working on a different case, they stumble upon “The Black Dahlia” murder of Elizabeth Short (Kirshner), whose body was dismembered from right to left. In the meantime, Blanchard brings Bucky home and introduces him to his girlfriend Kay (Johansson), who instantly befriends Bucky in their life as the three become inseparable for some time. While Lee becomes obsessed with solving the Dahlia and ignoring his own case, Kay starts to get worried when her past comes back to haunt her.

While helping Lee with the Dahlia case to speed the process, Bucky meets up with shady Madeline Linscott (Swank) at a lesbian club, yet somehow is attracted to her and the feeling is mutual. She happens to be of wealth yet keeps her lifestyle a secret from her parents. When the Dahlia case takes a turn for the worse and puts Bucky and Kay in an uncompromising position, the stakes get higher when lives are now endangered and the killer still on the loose.

While the initial story has an interesting premise, along with a possible love triangle, there lies the problem. The acting is fine to say the least, but Eckhart’s performance flip flops from being too kinetic to being resigned at times. The same goes for Johansson, who almost has nothing to do but play the “damsel in distress”. As the star of the film, Hartnett is fine but he’s saddled with a weak script that allows his character to decide what he wants in life. The scene stealer in the film is Fiona Shaw as Madeline’s not-quite there mother. Also standing out is Mia Kirshner, who’s character is shown in flashbacks but we get a sense as to she was and why she felt lost in life. The cinematography looks gorgeous as stated with the costumes and look of the areas set correctly for the 40s. The main problem with the film is the script. While many subplots are introduced, everything then gets contrived as the film comes to a conclusion. One might say that it was too neatly package, when it didn’t need to be. Not since “The Untouchables” has De Palma delivered a glorified film. Since then, he played the joker card too early in films and has nothing left but clubs to play and you can’t win with those.