The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia

DVD - 2006
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Set in 1940s Los Angeles. Two police officers, Bucky Bleichert and his partner, Lee Blanchard, investigate the death of Elizabeth Short - also known as The Black Dahlia, a young woman who is found brutally murdered. With a corpse so mutilated, the photos are kept from the public. Bucky soon realizes that his girlfriend had ties to the deceased, and soon after that, he begins uncovering corruption and conspiracy within the police departmen. The case becomes an obsession for the two men and their lives begin to unravel.

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i
iwasthewalrus
Jun 22, 2015

Centering on one of the most notorious and unsolved crimes in American history, The Black Dalilah offers up a theory on the death of Elizabeth Short. She was an ambitious starlet who was found mutilated in a field before she herself found success. The film invents two fictitious detectives, Bleichert (Hartnett) and Blanchard (Eckhart), who become infatuated with the deceased. Their personal lives begin to crumble as they obsess over apprehending the killer.

But the most puzzling mystery is not who killed Short, it’s how Josh Hartnett ever had a career. He combines the dramatic range of a wood block with an invisible screen presence. Has there been a more lifeless narration since Mark Hamill in The Big Red One? Hartnett fails to give any energy to his words. His interpretation of Bleichert is dull, and while the portrayal may work for the first twenty minutes, it does not last. The character starts off as relatively phlegmatic, but he begins to unhinge and veer into more neurotic territory. But the performance doesn’t change, and there are points were Hartnett feels entirely out of touch with his lines.

The pairing with Aaron Eckhart certainly doesn’t help. Eckhart’s self-serious and melodramatic performance is dreadful, something that’s worsened by how director Brian De Palma (whose presence was the only reason I bothered to watch this) chooses to develop the character of Blanchard off-screen. I doubt it was an intentional choice; De Palma was probably just oblivious to the fact that he never gave us any scenes to observe Blanchard’s transition in near-madness. The man seems relatively stable in one scene, and then in the next he’s practically deranged. There are countless moments between his wife (Johansson) and Bleichert worrying over his mental state, but we never see the deterioration ourselves. And for that reason, it’s impossible to buy into.

The three main actresses (Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, and Mia Krishner) are all given varying different degrees of solid material to make something out of. Their success varies. Swank is perhaps the worst in the film, providing an awkward take on the classic femme-fatale role. No matter her lavish attire and wavy hair, the smug grin she wears seems so unnatural on her face. Swank is just inherently incapable of playing this type of role. Johansson, on the other hand, is made up to look like Grace Kelly. She even possesses a similar type of sweetness. She’s an ordinary housewife, and we’re able to buy into her dilemma. Finally, there’s Krishner. She plays Elizabeth Short, and her only screen time is in footage of screen tests and a stag film the characters compulsively watch in the hope of a lead. Even in those brief moments, Krishner feels very human and lively (ironic, considering she plays a dead woman).

The cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond raked in a slightly undeserved Oscar nomination. The over-saturated and clichéd “period piece” aesthetic is mixed together with the shadowy environment of a 1940s noir. It’s inconsistently impressive. Certain shot compositions are overwhelming with perfectly captured silhouettes and a chilling sepia-like cover. But for a majority of the movie, the photography is flat.

From my earlier description it would seem the film focuses heavily on The Black Dahlia Murder case throughout. But it’s really just one of many sub-plots. The characters investigate several different cases, alternating between each. It’s focusless up until the heavily contrived climax which uses an outlandish coincidence to settle all of the sub-plots into one. Then it offers up its solution on what could’ve happened to Elizabeth Short. We know fully well it’s speculative claptrap, but while it lasts it’s mildly entertaining, though horrendously executed. Perhaps someday we’ll find out who truly killed Elizabeth Short, and this film will be instantly forgotten.

m
ManMachine
Jan 30, 2015

No. It wasn't just the presence of that little "dimple-chin", Aaron Eckhart, who ultimately ruined this utterly pretentious "Cop" movie for me. But Eckhart sure played a major part in bringing The Black Dahlia (TBD, for short) down to its sub-par level, but fast.

TBD was the sort of below-average picture that quickly encouraged this viewer to keep his remote firmly in hand with index-finger waiting impatiently to press the fast-forward button at a split-second's notice.

Here's a movie whose 2-hour running time could have easily been edited down to 90 minutes. And it's also a movie which proved to me that director Brian De Palma is clearly no longer a master of his craft as a film-maker (as he was once considered to be by many film buffs).

As well - TBD was an atrociously dull and totally inaccurate re-telling of a true murder case that had shocked the public silly and sent the LAPD on a wild-goose chase back in 1947.

Regardless of its $50 million budget and its meticulous attention to period detail, TBD was far from coming close to being a first-rate production on any level.

And when it eventually came down to this film's final revelations (concerning the true identity of Elizabeth Short's murderer), it was such a stupid, laughable joke, that it wasn't even worth the 110-minute wait at all.

rufus_red4 Jan 24, 2015

I didn't finish it, I turned it off after 30 minutes. I have seen worse movies, I just didn't care enough to keep watching.

l
lenabean
Oct 13, 2014

terrible ............... i personally didnt like it all though Josh Hartnett was very handsome and talented through out this movie... Im not down with the lesbian theme they had going thats what killed it for me. TWO THUMBS DOWN... DONT WASTE THE LIBRARY TRIP, THE 75 CENTS OR THE WAIT IF YOU PUT IT ON HOLD..........

p
Punnoval
Jul 21, 2014

De Palma doesn't seem to know whether he wants to make a political statement (see Mike Davis' "City of Quartz") or a scuzzy whodunnit. Other than the mighty fine dinner scene the film seems pretty static and only Hillary Swank seems to fit the material. Johanneson seems out of her element here.

j
jimg2000
May 10, 2014

Read the book and the film was still hard to follow with multi story lines going simultaneously. There was significant changes on one of the two main characters. But as the author said in the bonus features, the movie was more than film noir thriller. It was a historic romance and story of deep and troubled friendship in LA during the post war years.

m
Monolith
Jun 28, 2013

De Palma's stylized attention to detail in setting the film noir mood was deserving of credit. The cars; the clothes; the score; the hairstyles... All the components were there. Except two. The storyline and the acting. The former was convoluted, and the latter, well, stiff and awkward are two adjectives that come to mind. I did enjoy the film, as I am a big noir enthusiast. It just left something to be desired. Too much fluff and not enough substance.

lasertravis May 27, 2013

This is the best neo-noir flick I've seen. The look and feel are perfect. It is shot just gorgeous with breathtaking sets. The cast looks perfect. Costumes. Dialogue. The twisting story got me too. I loved this movie.

r
roystreet
Jan 14, 2013

The director, Brian de Palma, has said that camera movement is the real story-teller; dialogue is just the icing on the cake. So no surprise that overall the acting looks like he photographed the second rehearsal. Hartnett is pallid, Eckhart is over the top, and the women are comatose.

aaa5756 Feb 28, 2012

It was O.K for a home movie. I was entertained. But it was NOT worth the long library wait or the
price to rent from a Red Box.

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j
jimg2000
May 12, 2014

Maddy’s Dad: Dig in, lad.
Hearty fare breeds
hearty people.
Haute cuisine breeds
Degenerates.
Martha: I want to draw
Mr. Bleichert, Daddy.
Maddy’s Dad: You're in for
a cruel caricaturing, Bucky
Maddy's my pretty one,
but Martha's
my certified genius.

Maddy’s Dad: What kind of a name
is Bleichert? Dutch?
Bucky: German.
Maddy’s Dad: A great people, the Germans
Hitler was a bit excessive
But mark my words
that someday we'll regret
not joining forces with him
to fight the communists.
You know,
I killed a lot of your
countrymen during the war

j
jimg2000
May 12, 2014

BUCKY: Madeleine was wrong.
I had others.
Ones I'd loved
and ones who'd loved me.
People I'd betrayed and people
I needed to protect. And, for the first time
in my life,
I had people that knew that,
for the briefest of times,
in the darkest of places, I had been so,
so good at some things.

m
Monolith
Jun 28, 2013

Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (voiceover: "The basic rule of homicide applied: nothing stays buried forever. Corpses. Ghosts. Nothing stays buried forever. Nothing."

m
Monolith
Jun 28, 2013

Madeleine Linscott: "Elizabeth and I made love once. I just did it to see what it would be like with someone who looked like me."

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