Directed by: Brian De Palma
Premise: An adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel. Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett play a pair of detectives tracking a killer in 1940s Los Angeles.
What Works: Some of the early sequences have a lot of intensity. Scarlett Johansson fits her role very well and her relationship with Eckhart and Hartnett’s characters is the one area of the film that is compelling.
What Doesn’t: The Black Dahlia is a mess on many levels. The film is largely miscast and the acting is very poor, particularly Josh Hartnett who has all the charisma of a fire hydrant. Eckhart, who is an experienced and talented actor, is unable to find a handle on a character that shifts in demeanor throughout the story for no particular reason. The story jerks the audience around from one place to the next with no sense of progress in uncovering the mystery. While building in multiple storylines is typical of the genre, the various strands of The Black Dahlia do not connect and when the truth behind the mystery is finally revealed it is not the result of coherently assembling any of the detective work that has accumulated throughout the story. Despite being directed by veteran filmmaker Brian De Palma, The Black Dahlia looks very amateurish in its execution. The cinematography and editing are sloppy, scenes plod along without much sense of direction, and DePalma’s characteristic split-diopter shots are used frequently but without any apparent storytelling function. Where films such as L.A. Confidential and Hollywoodland made reference to 1940s film noir and then reinterpreted the genre, The Black Dahlia almost comes off as a weak imitation, almost a parody.
Bottom Line: The Black Dahlia is a disaster of a movie. It fails at the most basic task of creating an entertaining and coherent murder mystery and its failure is increased by lead actors who deliver poor performances and a style that is obnoxious.
Episode: #111 (October 8, 2006)