The Black Dahlia

 
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by:Josh Friedman
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr
Released: November 23, 2006
Grade: C

I like reading books but have trouble finding the time to do so.  I could count on one hand the number of novels I’ve read this year.  Last November though, I read The Black Dahlia.  I was inspired after seeing a brief plot overview on the Internet Movie Database.  It wasn’t the best book I’ve read but it helped pass the time on the train to and from work.

I couldn’t remember the intricacies of the story but I was looking forward to seeing what this cinematic version had to offer.  I needn’t of bothered because this film is a mess.  I had trouble following the story (despite having read the novel) and the long-winded, deliberate passages of dialogue were annoying.  I fear that many audience members will look bewildered en route home from the cinema.

The Black Dahlia is a work of fiction but it is based around a real-life event.  In 1947, a wanna-be actress named Elizabeth Short was murdered in Los Angeles.  Her body was cut in two and her organs had been removed.  The brutal nature of the crime made in front page material.  Despite a massive police investigation, the crime was never solved.

Author James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) used the murder as the backdrop of his imaginary tale of two cops trying to solve the case.  Lee Blanchard (Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Hartnett) were once successful boxers.  They found their way into the police force and their popularity saw them appointed to the high-profile warrants division.  Nicknamed Fire and Ice, they developed a reputation for always “getting their man”.

In the days following the murder of Elizabeth Short however, their partnership would unravel.  The crime was too much for the usually tough Blanchard to deal with.  It consumed him to the point where he would think about it day and night.  It was also affecting the relationship with his long-time girlfriend, Kay Lake (Johansson).

In conducting his own investigations, the steady-headed Bleichert uncovered a lead in Madeleine Linscott (Swank), the wealthy daughter of a property developer.  Linscott knew Elizabeth Short and also had an uncanny resemblance to her.  Bleichert finds his own judgment impaired when he falls for Madeleine’s seductions.

The film looks great with its 1940 costumes and set direction but it fails with its poor story and questionable performances.  Why did they need to show all the video footage of Elizabeth Short?  Why did we need the scenes with Bucky and his father?  They don’t add much to the story if you ask me.  The time would have been better spent either: (a) exploring the strange three-way relationship between Lee, Bucky and Kaye, (b) looking more intently at the corruption in the police force, (c) explaining the story of Bobby De Witt.

The characters are as stiff as a board.  Rarely emotive and always smoking a cigarette, their lifeless personalities bored me to tears.  The sex scenes are laughable.  I also had trouble understanding the dialogue at times.  Either they were speaking too softly (Hartnett in particular with his narration) or the film score and sound effects were too loud in the background.  How could the director of a $50m film let this happen?  Maybe I’m just going deaf.

Like poor Elizabeth Short, this story has been murdered.