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'The Black Dahlia' is a 2006 film adaptation of the James Ellroy crime novel of the same name, and is directed by long established Hollywood director Brian Da Palma.
The 'Black Dahlia' of the title is aspiring actress Elizabeth 'Betty' Short, a real life actress who was found brutally murdered in 1947. 'Bucky' Bleichart, played by Josh Hartnett and Lee Blanchard, played by Aaron Eckhart are two of the lead homicide cops working on solving the murder. Their investigation leads them into the seedy underbelly of Hollywood as they uncover corruption at the deepest levels.
The somewhat fractuous relationship between the two of them is complicated further by the fact they are bare knuckled boxing rivals, Blanchard's obbession with solving the case and the love triangle with Blanchard's beau, Kay Lake, played by Scarlett Johannson.
There is a relatively high-profile supporting cast which includes Rose MacGowan, Hilary Swank, Fiona Shaw and Jemima Rooper.
I am just going to come out and say it - this is not a very good film. The murder itself is almost incidental as the main focus of the film is on Hartnett, Eckhart and Johannson's characters. The big problem here being, that the characters themselves are just not that interesting. Hartnett's performance is stilted and unconvincing, and its very difficult to care about Eckhart's character's breakdown or the effect it has on Johannson's character.
This film is shot in the film noir style, lots of sepia tones and incredible attention to detail when it comes to sets and costumes. In essence it looks stunning. However, this is all let down by the fact that the acting and the dialogue moves too far from an affectionate modern-made throwback to the film noir period, and instead is quite clunky, verging too much on pastiche to really take it very seriously. A lot of it is really rather hammy in actual fact - Josh Hartnett's voiceover is awful!
Ultimately, it follows in the footsteps of another James Ellroy adaptation, LA Confidential which was released in 1997 and is a near perfect example of this type of film, and therefore can only be compared unfavourably. Where LA Confidential managed to tie all the loose strands of the period together, the high level corruption, the poisonous influence and underbelly of Hollywood, and the complicated people trying to enforce the law amongst all this - this fails on virtually every level. In places, it is really rather lurid and shallow.
The use of attractive, young big name stars seems to be a cynical ploy to get a wider audience, but they just do not have the gravitas to carry off this work. Johannson's supposed 'femme fetale' is weak - she looks the part but it really is very difficult to get any real depth from her.
There is a lot that is meant to be going on, but I largely found it incredibly difficult to follow and I do not just think it is because I lost interest in it - I just think it was trying to cover too much ground to the point that important points are rather glossed over and it is difficult to decipher what the audience really should be taking an interest in.
Ultimately this is a disappointing film, that I really would not recommend - just rent a copy of LA Confidential if you want to see film noir done well!
note: also appears in part on Flixster and The Student Room
The Black Dahlia was one of the most-hyped films of 2006, and even had Oscar buzz before its release, which sadly proved to be entirely wrong when the film turned out to be quite a spectacular mess. However, it did have gorgeous cinematography, so it's probably the best-looking bad film out there. It's just a shame that with these performers and this crackling plot, Scarface director Brian De Palma couldn't wring out something a little more cohesive and interesting.
The film begins with the discovery of a body, that of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), a beautiful young starlett who had just come to Hollywood to start a budding acting career. While this aspect is handled fairly well, and we get a hint at just how lurid her private life was that led to her murder, the film focuses far too much on the intimate details of some less interesting lives, chiefly the two detectives assigned to the case, Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), who are in a love triangle with Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). This suffocates the film, taking away precious time from the murder mystery, and by the time we get back to it, we have to settle for a ridiculously over the top climax that's utterly baffling.
By far the most disappointing film of 2006, the film's saving grace is nevertheless its rather excellent cinematography. What begins well quickly descends into a film that places the murder investigation on the back burner and focuses on the rather boring lives of the officers. The end payoff is truly ridiculous, and to stray so far from Elroy's novel is criminal. For a far superior film of a similar ilk, see Zodiac.
Two policemen, Dwight Bleichert (known as Bucky) and Lee Blanchard become involved in the investigation into the murder of Elizabeth Short, a wannabe actress who was found badly mutilated. Bucky and Lee are friends, but their friendship takes a complicated turn when the investigation begins to involve them on a personal level - and the fact that Bucky is in love with Lee's girlfriend Kay does not help matters. To try and forget about Kay, Bucky turns to Madeleine Linscott, but soon finds that she is somehow linked to Elizabeth Short. Unable to trust Lee, Madeleine or Kay, can Bucky piece together what happened to Elizabeth Short?
I really liked the sound of this film when it first came out; I love film noir and hard-boiled detective stories a la Dashiell Hammett, and this looked very much of that ilk. Plus it is based around a true story - Elizabeth Short really was murdered, although her murderer was never discovered. Then the reviews started coming in, and I don't think I read a single positive one, which put me off for a while. Curiosity eventually got the better of me though, and in any case, I often find I enjoy films that others have slated. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with this film.
Josh Hartnett plays Bucky Bleichert, and I think gives a really good performance here. Of the two policemen, Bucky is the better developed character - he has to be really because he tells the story. Hartnett is completely convincing as the straight cop who just wants to do his job. Unfortunately, Bucky's life is complicated by an ailing father, who appears to be suffering from dementia, and his love for first Kay and then Madeleine. However, this gives Hartnett a real chance to get his teeth into the role, and he really does have to run the whole gamut of emotions. I have two minor issues with his performance though. One is his hairstyle, parted down the middle, as presumably was the fashion in the 1940s when the film is set - unfortunately, it really doesn't suit him and he looks a bit daft. Secondly, he has a quiet voice and a habit of running his words together, so when he is doing his voice-overs to explain the story, it was sometimes hard to catch what he was saying. Most of the time, it didn't really matter, but occasionally, I missed something and had to rewind the DVD.
I really enjoyed Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight, no mean feat as I didn't particularly enjoy the film as a whole. As Lee Blanchard, he is a little bit under-whelming. He didn't give a bad performance; he just didn't really grab my attention - which is perhaps surprising when he has some really over-the-top temper tantrums. I think too, his character just isn't that developed, so it is hard to really feel anything much for him. The same can be said for Scarlett Johansson as Kay and Hilary Swank as Madeleine, although their roles are even less well developed. I couldn't help but feel that they were slightly wasted in this film - the roles could have been managed by more or less any attractive actress.
As a Brit, a couple of British/Irish actors caught my attention. Ian McNiece, who is all over British TV in programmes such as Inspector Morse, Lewis and Doc Martin, plays the coroner. It's only a brief role, but he looks completely natural in the role. More importantly, there is Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies) who plays Madeleine Linscott's mother Ramona. This is, as it turns out, quite a pivotal role, and by no means an easy one, because Ramona is mentally ill, but Shaw gives it her all and is great, as always.
The story is a reasonable one - it is based on a true story after all. Unfortunately, it just isn't told very well. Obviously, it is told mainly from the point of view of the two policemen investigating the case, so this muddies the water quite a lot - the emphasis is initially very much on their relationship and Kay's part in all that, which takes the concentration away from Elizabeth Short. And I found Bucky's voice-overs quite annoying because they weren't always that clear. Basically, it feels as if there is so much going on that the main story, Short's murder and how she came to be murdered, becomes diluted, and as a result, the film rather loses its way.
Directed by Brian De Palma, there is no doubt that this is visually a very well-made film. Unfortunately, I think a little bit too much effort has gone into the cinematography - it is just way too busy for me. In each scene, there always seems to be about ten people, all talking over each other and moving around, which I found highly distracting. When it comes to film-making, I prefer simplicity, strong colours and as few characters as possible; with all that De Palma throws into the mix, I almost ended up with a migraine. The 1940s clothes that the women wear are, for me, the only real highlight of the visuals.
There is a lot of violence in the film and some fairly graphic shots of dead bodies and fighting. At the beginning of the film, Bucky and Lee fight each other in a boxing match, and we are treated to slow motion shots of blood and teeth flying around the boxing ring. I watch a lot of horror films and am rarely disturbed by violence, but there is something about boxing and the fact that it is supposed to be a 'sport' that I find disturbing. Then there are the dead bodies. Elizabeth Short's is particularly harrowing, because of the strangulation mark around her neck, then there are a couple of other deaths that are less than wholesome. In short, if this is likely to offend, or you are thinking about letting children see it, then you may want to think again. In my opinion, the rating of 15 is probably about right.
There are no extras on the DVD that I have. It is possible to select scenes and to add subtitles as necessary (perhaps that's what I should have done for Josh Hartnett!), but that is all.
I didn't dislike this film, I didn't ever consider turning it off, and I would like to read the book by James Ellroy on which the film is based. However, nor did it really grab me. I think that the story should have been simplified and I think there should have been less going on in each scene. This is definitely not a film to watch when you want something light-hearted, because it requires that little bit too much concentration. Unfortunately, concentration is not something that I felt was worthwhile to use on this film. If you like any of the main actors, or you really like film noir, then it might be worth a watch, but I wouldn't recommend going out of your way - no doubt it will be shown on television soon. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.
Running time: 121 minutes
The Black Dahlia is a very dark and moody crime thriller filmed in the style of a film noir and set in the 1940s. Director Brian De Palma is known for his variety of filming styles, and here he tries to go moody with his lead males of Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart. However, despite a very dramatic feel to the feel, the plot and acting don't quite pull it off.
Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard are partners in the Hollywood crime division, and following the death of the high profile Elizabeth Short, they start to investigate its suspicious nature. Loosely based on a Hollywood murder, the film attempts to match up to author James Ellroy's previous movie adaptation, L.A. Confidential. However, while Confidential was a clever and effective film, The Black Dahlia is just too dark and emotionless to grab my interest.
I had heard promising things about this film, and with the history of L.A. Confidential to support it, I expected a lot more. The curious sexual tension between the male and female leads of the film is the only stirring element, with Scarlett Johanssen and Hilary Swank oozing sex appeal but not giving up an inch of acting talent - they seem to have left it at home.
And sadly the same can be said of Hartnett, although he does have moments where his on screen charisma seeps through. Eckhart, on the other hand, is broody and powerful on the screen, with his charisma taking over. The actor does much bette than the others, and is highly believable in the role of troubled cop. The remainder of the cast do well, but it is more like the majority of the cast left their skills in 1940, as opposed to using them to give a portrayal of a 1940s crime.
The cinematography is very dark, and the direction seems to have taken a curiously downward turn from De Palma, who is normally so reliable. The screenplay is not impressive, and the story does leave a little to be desired in its application onto the screen, and I'm not sure whether this is due to the screenplay adaptation or the original story from Ellroy itself.
Overall, I found it very hard to enjoy this film. It was confusing, and I often wasn't sure as to who was supposed to have done what. The story plodded along being rather unclear until minutes before the end, when I finally got the gist, and even then I wasn't impressed. I won't be watching the film again. I understand what the idea was, but it didn't work at all for me. This seemed a surprise to me, as L.A. Confidential was a very good film. The chalk and cheese of James Ellroy adaptations.
The DVD, if you really want to buy it, is available from amazon.co.uk for £4.98, and the copy I have seen has no extras.
I want to start by saying I watched the movie first then read the book. The movie for me was better but they are both bad. While the cinematic colors are nice and it is visually appealing, the story line is pretty boring. I know this movie was inspired by a true unsolved mystery, but this movie seemed to try to glamorize the story and it just went horribly wrong. They should have either stuck to the facts or fictionalized the story completely.
Elizabeth Short was a wannabe actress who was found brutally murdered in California in the 1940's. Former boxer turned detective Bucky and his partner Lee are on the case. Soon Bucky is involved in a strange love affair and begins to suspect corruption within his close circle of friends and the police department.
I really was looking forward to watching this movie and was horribly disappointed. The movie is one big mess, with the bad storytelling and slow plotline, the characters are somewhat undeveloped, and the editing of the movie was bad. While visually pleasing, the rest of it is horrible. The movie might have been better to watch on mute. This movie has acclaimed actors and actresses such as Josh Hartnett, Hillary Swank, and Scarlett Johansson. I would not recommend the movie or the book, they are both painfully boring.
Some of the greatest directors have fallen from grace over the years. The 70s was a fertile time for film and many young and impressive directors came through the ranks. Of those there are only a handful that you could say are still great, Spielberg, Scorsese (maybe). There is a much longer list of directors that have fallen by the side; Woody Allen (marrying your own adopted daughter is NOT acceptable), Coppola. One director who started with Carrie in the 70s but probably peaked in the 80s with Scarface and The Untouchables is Brian De Palma. How could a perfectly adequate director go from making these classics to making dross such as The Black Dahlia?
Bucky and Lee are two police officers who also happen to be minor celebrities in 1940s LA. They use their profile to get involved in the horrific case of an actress found mutilated and dumped in a field. The unusual aspects of the case mean that there is a feeding frenzy for the press. This suits Bucky and Lee as they consider themselves stars of the police force. However, things do not go swimmingly as no suspect is found instantly. The two police officers end up resenting one another and go about looking for clues individually; one becomes obsessed with the facts, while the other descends into the darker side of Hollywoodland. Can they uncover the killer before they strike again? Or will the press rip them to pieces first?
You would suspect a film named after one of the most famous murder cases in LA history would surround the case itself? You would be wrong. One of the major problems with this film is that De Palma seems unsure whether to have the case as background for the cops relationship, or have it as the main thread of the film. This means that the audience are constantly having to sit through 20 minute chunks of relationship then 20 minutes of case work. De Palma should have decided to either bring the murder to the forefront or try not to mention it too often.
I am not sure what the next worst part of the film was; the acting, the story or the direction? Firstly, the acting was poor, especially if you consider the cast. Aaron Eckart has wavered on the edge of stardom for a few years now and if he continues to appear in films like this he may just disappear. He is ok as Lee the rough and slightly dodgy detective, but no acting muscles are stretched. This is probably a good thing as he stars alongside a walking piece of wood that is Josh Hartnett. Hartnett is good to look at, but just can not emote at all. He has appeared in some interesting films, but he always manages to make them slightly worse than they should be. Scarlett Johansson also appears as the love interest, but as in many of her recent films she disappears into the background as a shade of dull. I actually forgot she was in it!
This acting gets worse with the bizarre eccentricities of the co-characters. The mother and father roles played by Fiona Shaw and John Kavanaugh are so out of context with the rest of the film that they leave you reeling. The only person to come out of the film with any semblance of credit is Hilary Swank as the enigmatic Madeleine. As a rule I do not rate Swank films and I feel she overacts, however, here she plays a femme fatale brilliantly and is truly sexy and this is a woman that looks like a startled stick insect. If you can get me to fancy you even though I find you annoying, you must be a good actress!
The script itself is also a mare. They have been many books written on the Black Dahlia case and they are filled with intrigue and menace. This film has none of this. Rather than concentrate solely on the case we are instead subjected to a storyline that is sub The Bold and the Beautiful. To make matters worse, the film descends into a surreal thriller than will leave you completely confused. The running time was about 20 minutes too long so I am sure they could have edited the story to make it more coherent and concentrate more on the case. Having not read the original story by James Ellroy, if it is like the film, it must be pretty bad.
I blame the majority of the problems above on one man De Palma. As the director it is his duty to make sure that the film stays on track, instead he allows the story to descend into farce. The entire project feels misjudged to me and De Palma can do nothing to make it better. His direction is adequate and quite moody, but what is the point in trying when the script is so tosh. I think that this film may very well be the last that we see of this director in any meaningful way.
Overall, The Black Dahlia is not the worst film I have seen, but pretty poor. The makers were able to take an incredibly interesting case and make the film into a day time soap. Things only get worse as the film staggers to its awful conclusion. On the plus side Swank is good and it is an interesting exercise in failed noir. If you want to watch a film that takes this time period and makes it seem noirish I advice watching the excellent LA Confidential.
Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank and some other actress
Price: Amazon uk £8.48
CD Wow £5.99
3 over stylised features about how great the film is more adverts than information.
The Black Dahlia is set in 1940s Los Angeles. Two cops, Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and his partner, Lee Blanchard, investigate the death of Elizabeth Short, a young woman found brutally murdered. Bucky soon realizes that his girlfriend had ties to the deceased, and soon after that, he begins uncovering corruption and conspiracy within the police department.
- This is taken from imdb.com because I really can't think of a better or less concise way of describing the plot
The Black Dahlia is a film of contrasts; a film of unscrupulous beauty and startling ugliness, of engaging intelligence and mystifying stupidity, of rousing energy and overwhelming laziness. Stuck between 50's chic and modern-day cynicism it has no-where to go, has nothing to say and falls flat in practically everything it attempts to do. Uneven and confusing it doesn't know what it wants to be and lacks the heart, character development or intrigue to make you care. Dripping with pretentiousness, drowned in stupidity and suffocated by the most non-sensical script in recent memory The Black Dahlia offers no answers, offers no emotional satisfaction and only succeeds in being extremely frustrating.
Essentially The Black Dahlia isn't a bad piece of film making; infact it's absolutely beautiful to look at and consistently entertains, but it is a terrible piece of storytelling/script writing. It struggles to find a voice, is extremely sensationalized, frustratingly shallow and (most prominently) overwhelmingly confusing. Whole chunks of dialogue make no sense, characters motives are murky at best and the screenplay brings in sub-plots which have no relevance to the main plotline. Very little of the screenplay makes any sense and it's written in a way that casts doubt on the screenwriters understanding of the subject matter. Attempts at characters seems curiously misplaced as do the increasingly redundant (and perplexing) plot twists that add little to the quality of the piece. None of this is helped by a clawing, synthetic narrative which fits in with film-noir convention but is written without panache or intelligence and eventually becomes unbearable. You get the feeling that the writer had too many idea's and just didn't know how to sift out the GOD-AWFUL ones which makes the pace of the script agonizingly slow. I was forced to rewind the film on many occasions to work out what was happening and the finale offers no satisfying answers. It ends in a semi comic, absurdly unrealistic finale, that throws in a theory to the infamous Hollywood murder which in both unfounded and stupid.
However, the most disappointing thing about the picture is its lack of focus of the actual Black Dahlia case - one of the few Hollywood stories which is both horrifying and fascinating. It is truly stuff of legend and there are hundreds of theories (some viable, most not) that could have be explored. I wanted to know more about the victim, who she was and where she came from, I wanted to know what led her to such an unspeakably cruel death. Was she a nice person? Did her desire to be famous force her to stamp on some others dreams? Did she have any enemies? No-where in the film do we get a sense of the character and the murder case surrounding her death is curiously brushed off in favour of a sordid and uninteresting love triangle. The film also gives you no impression of the huge media coverage which surrounded the case, the impact it had on society or the movie industry. For all it style and bravado The Black Dahlia has a serious case of 'I've got nothing to say-itis', it ponders and examines and pouts (rather successfully in the case of Johanssen) but delivers nothing. It exists for no reason - it doesn't shed light on one of the most enduring and horrific tales in Hollywood folklore and it doesn't imprint any sense of what it was like to exist in Hollywood in the late forties/early fifties. Infact the promise Black Dahlia is really only a ploy to get bums on seats, because otherwise it would be completely uninteresting to cinema-goers and that's a little bit unfair. It is true that we will probably never know who committed this dreadful crime or even why, but I just wish the film had the courage to have a sensible, interesting stab at making a thesis.
The Black Dahlia is a gorgeous movie; beautiful costumes, stunning sets and impressive camera work all collide in a tornado of style and atmosphere. From the opening shots the film lays its rules down; moody lighting, smoke filled rooms and breath-taking visuals are the pick of the day and they do recreate the 'look' of 50s noir extremely well. As a master-class in visuals it is one of the best Hollywood pics I have seen in some time - everything looks right and accurate and realistic despite the heightened style and unrealistic crispness. The camera work is the first thing that you'll notice, long lingering shots allow atmosphere to develop and slick, fast moving camera angles give suspense and tension to otherwise redundant sequences (the opening boxing match being the most memorable'. Each shot is thick with cigarette smoke which gives an eerie grace to the thing (even though the constant sparking up seems almost hilariously misplaced. The camera sashes through the film, showing just enough of the action to be enticing, but keeping enough back to make you work a little. At times brash and at others tremendously subtle the camera work almost perfectly replicates the grace an heaving style which made film noir such a force to be reckoned with in the first place.
This is helped by the attention to detail shown from all involved in the aesthetics of the film - the sets are never anything but convincing, much like the costumes. The street scenes are punctuated with a real believability as is most of the gun-happy action. Infact the film is so startlingly beautiful that it's easy to forget the major flaws which suffocate the film throughout.
Most of the performances in the Black Dahlia are sub-par at best, others are screeching wreckages of mania and shouting, one is searing, honest, moving and haunting - this one has a running time of about 5 minutes. Josh Hartnett is saddled with a bland, dull and often annoying character and always one to rise to the occasion Josh Hartnett puts in a bland, dull and often annoying performance. He is not leading man material; he lacks charisma and garners no emotion from the audience whatsoever. Kind of unconvincing as a human being, he fails to inject believability into an already dubious character and manages to have zero chemistry with anyone on screen. This emotional barrenness seeps into his excruciating narrative which is real send you to sleep stuff. This emotional ineptness is shared by Scarlett Johansson who does nothing with a stupid, insignificant character. While she seems comfortable when playing the characters more sexual side, she seems painfully self conscious when having to deal with emotion. She and Hartnett have no chemistry so there scenes lack any spark or tension and leave you nothing but cold.
These are nothing compared to the scary, wacky, pantomimeesque styling of Fiona Shaw. What she was trying to achieve I will never know, she seems high as a kite and her performance is laughably manic and disturbingly stupid. Whether this bewildering lack of realism and scenery chewing was enforced by Brian De Palmer or Shaw just fancied doing over the top is never revealed but I suspect no-body would want to admit to it. Hilary Swank gives an uninspired, but watchable turn in the typical sexy but vindictive vixen. It's Mia Kirshner who really surprises though - as Elizabeth Short (the Black Dahlia) she gives a haunting, upsetting and mesmerizing performance. Rubbed raw with pain and lighted by a hypnotic presence she makes almost makes the film worth while. It is a shame then that her performance consists of a few brief screen-tests and flash backs - it really is astounding.
Overall, The Black Dahlia is a disappointing, flat and damn right confusing mish-mash of ideas and styles; with mainly sub par performances, a ludicrous script and messy pacing. It sure is pretty though...
Based on the novel by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential), The Black Dahlia stars Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart as a pair of LAPD detectives assigned to the most notorious murder in Hollywood history. Director Brian De Palma takes time to establish the relationship between Buddy Bleichert, Lee Blanchard, and their mutual love Kay Lake(Scarlett Johanssen), before introducing the 1947 murder after which the film is named. In the haunting screen-tests left behind after her mysterious death, aspiring actress Elizabeth Short appears to want fame so badly, she'll do anything to get it. Her pornographic film appearances, and a rumoured affair with narcissist heiress Madeleine Linscott (Hillary Swank), provide just two clues in a sea of confusion.