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The Black Dahlia

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“Make it look good”. That’s a line of dialogue from script for The Black Dahlia, but it could just as well be the studio’s instruction to director Brian De Palma.


Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Mia Kirshner

“Make it look good”. That’s a line of dialogue from script for The Black Dahlia, but it could just as well be the studio’s instruction to director Brian De Palma.

De Palma’s the type of unique filmmaker that always seems to be able to have a film play just as good as it looks. His immense widescreen dramas are nearly always complimented by a captivating storyline. And so they should be; if comic books can successfully combine great pictures with an equally engaging storyline then it should be a prerequisite of films too, right?

“One rotten apple ain’t so bad”, is another line uttered in this pic, and unfortunately it’s a line that could just as well be referring to De Palma’s first big disappointment of his career – – the film adaptation of James “L.A Confidential” Ellroy’s 1987 book, “The Black Dahlia”.

Set in the 40s, and based loosely on the murder case of the same name, “Dahlia” fixes on two cops, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), who are out to find who killed actress [though her biggest credit seems to be a ‘snuff’ film] Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner, possibly giving the best performance in the film). Throw in a well-heeled bisexual seductress (Hilary Swank), the girl (Scarlett Johansson) in the middle of Lee and Bucky, and a dozen other red herrings and you’ve got yourself an old-style murder mystery.

“Dahlia” isn’t a bad flick – there are some great performances, the direction is gorgeous and the storyline engaging enough – but it definitely falls into the Paris Hilton school of art: Pretty on the outside, Daft on the inside.

Thankfully the film’s set pieces and film stock are dazzling enough to see you through the running time, but with paint drying faster than the pacing of this thing, and an inability to get emotionally invested in any of the characters, it’s definitely not De Palma doing what he does best. In fact, some much of it does even feel like De Palma but more so David Lynch – with everything from the music, direction and of course, the plot, resembling Lynch’s eerie 90s murder mystery “Twin Peaks”. It could be Josh Friedman, the screenwriter, who deserves the whipping though – even if De Palma should’ve known to say no to a dodgy script – he’s the one who’s written a film that throws in too much and is in calamitous need of some clarity.

You can walk into an art gallery any day and get a glimpse of suddenly just as striking – and for free. Do that.

Rating :
Reviewer : Clint Morris

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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