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The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia

Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
: Brian De Palma
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner
Released by: Universal Pictures

In Short: Hilary Swank’s inspired Katharine-Hepburn-gone-bad impression can’t save this jumbled mess of a 1940s noir flick.

Bogart and Bacall They're Not
Hartnett and Johansson’s Pale Imitation of the Greats
by Jenny Peters

Remember “To Have and Have Not”? The movie that introduced Lauren Bacall to the big screen, and to Humphrey Bogart at the same time? That legendary screen couple sizzled their way through that 1944 gem, as well as their later film noir classics “The Big Sleep” and “Key Largo,” with their real-life sexual attraction a palpable part of the both films’ proceedings.

Cut to today, as Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson star in “The Black Dahlia,” their very own 1940s film noir made as the couple was igniting their own off-screen romance. Sadly, their try at the genre fizzles, with nary a whisper of steam between the two, even in the midst of their bedroom scenes.

Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart in The Black Dahlia
Scarlett Johansson in The Black Dahlia

Based on James Ellroy’s fine 1987 novel, the story involves two cops (Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart) who face off in the boxing ring and then become partners in the LAPD detective squad just as a Hollywood starlet is brutally murdered. The two begin to investigate, form a three-way triangle with Johansson’s lush-lipped character, and the plot thickens.

But whereas Ellroy’s book made sense, Brian De Palma’s film is incomprehensible, introducing characters that simply disappear, following story lines that go nowhere, throwing in jarring (and silly) Grand Guignol moments, and—perhaps the worst sin of all—making the dark world of Los Angeles crime circa 1947 look drab and dull. Strange coming from the man who brought us great, darkly fascinating films like “The Untouchables,” “Scarface,” and “Body Double,” but let’s face it, those movies were made in the 1980s. This film is more in line with his recent abysmal efforts like “Femme Fatale” and “Mission to Mars.”

The Black Dahlia
Hillary Swank and Josh Hartnett in The Black Dahlia

The saving grace of the film is Hilary Swank’s performance as Madeline Linscott, a decadent heiress who just may have had something to do with the Black Dahlia’s murder. She vamps it up with a sultry look and a Katharine Hepburn vocal imitation, and she’s the best thing in the film. Kudos also to Fiona Shaw, who plays Swank's definitely dotty mother.

It’s easy to say that neither Hartnett nor Johansson have the acting chops of Bogart or Bacall (because, at least in this flick, they sure don't), but “The Black Dahlia” isn’t just plagued by that duo’s less-than-stellar performances. From beginning to end, De Palma’s ill-constructed film is simply a jumbled mess.



P091406
(Updated 08/30/07 NJ)

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