Based on James Ellroy's novel, that is in turn based on one of the most notorious unsolved murders of all time, this represents another step in Brian De Palma's increasing irrelevance.
That's harsh, I know, but sadly it's true. This had potential to be good, and there's a great film to be made on this subject, but this isn't that film, and almost all of the potential is squandered.
A major problem is that a lot of the time, the murder of wannabe actress Elizabeth Short takes a back seat to the story of the partnership between two detectives, and how the case (and other issues) are affecting them. It's plodding, meandering, and, while I'm okay with complex movies, this one is just too convoluted and messy for its own good. Not only that, but perhaps worst of all, you really don't care about the people or what happens.
The film is populated by well known performers such as Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, and Hilary Swank, as well as wonderful character actor Mike Starr, but none of them really impress all that much. I do like how Eckhart, and especially Swank do these really pronounced "actor-y" accents, but they've all been far better elsewhere.
Being De Palma, the film is shot well, with trademark camera moves, angles, and expressive lighting, but that's really the only highlight. The music is typical for period piece neo-noirs, but unfortunately just made me think more of the music from Chinatown than anything else.
All in all, this is a real letdown. I like De Palma, or rather, I try to find enjoyment out of his place in film history, but it really bugs me that he's gone downhill, especially since I really don't know why.