The Black Dahlia Reviews

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Super Reviewer
September 14, 2006
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.
Super Reviewer
November 30, 2011
The Black Dahlia was a film that I was really looking forward to seeing. Upon its release, I saw it, and was very, very disappointed in what I saw. This was a film that had so much potential and it was wasted. Brian DePalma has a solid cast of actors, yet his direction is sloppy. I thought that the films premise was good, but halfway through the film, everything falls apart, and the film just drags on, and becomes boring, unimpressive and dull. I think if the film would have been trimmed slightly in length, and the material reworked, The Black Dahlia could have been a stellar mystery film. Unfortunately, not even the excellent cast can save this boring film. The film had plenty of potential to being great, but instead it suffers from long, tired scenes of painful dialogue and the film's story just lingers and goes no where and when there's something that actually is interesting that happens, it's too little too late. The end result is a film that doesn't satisfy and really just disappoints. I thought this film was ultimately terrible, and is one of DePalma's worst efforts. The film could have been good, but DePalma's directing is unfocused and doesn't know where he wants to take the audience, therefore we're left in a boring trance trying to figure out really what is going on. Well, that's not hard to guess, there's nothing going on here, except a potentially great mystery thriller that has been wasted by a director past his prime. That's about it. The Black Dahlia is a boring, dull film and if you're looking for an excellent murder thriller, this film definitely isn't it. I think it's a shame that Brian DePalma wasted such a varied cast of talented actors and I think that if the film would have been directed by someone else, this film would have turned out quite differently. Avoid.
Super Reviewer
October 14, 2006
Despite this brilliant cast with equally brilliant performances, I could tell from the very start that I wouldn't like this film. It's far too wordy and I just couldn't understand what was going on. It was very difficult to follow and felt like it lasted an age.
Clintus M.
Super Reviewer
January 21, 2011
First off, like so many others, I couldn't wait to see this film. I've been fascinated by the Black Dahlia case for many years, and I've mostly enjoyed Brian DePalma's movies. This may have been a faithful adaptation of James Ellroy's book, but I didn't like it, and much of doesn't deal with the Dahlia case anyway. This story revolves much more around "Mr. Fire" Blanchard's obsessions and ambition and how "Mr.Ice" Bleichert deals with Blanchard and Kay Lake (Johansson) while investigating Beth Short's murder. It contains a typically (from DePalma) convoluted plot and multiple storylines.

I didn't care much for these characters, but the movie has its moments. I love Scarlet Johansson in anything, and Hillary Swank gives a good performance, a different character than I've seen her play. They're much better than the male leads. The perverted family of Madeline (Swank) is interesting, and Mia Kirsher as Beth Short was mesmerizing. As another reviewer observed, the lesbian bar scene is hilarious and memorable; the inclusion of kd Lang a great bonus.

Overall the movie is bad in general but even worse due to my high expectations. This film is atmospheric but ultimately deteriorates into a campy, trampy mess.
Super Reviewer
½ January 6, 2009
Didn't expect much after checking out its IMDb Rating (as usual, before I go for flicks not from Bollywood). And as expected, the movie wasn't too good. The movie was interesting in parts, but such parts were too few. I don't know how much of the movie has been kept real & how much fictionalized, but taking into consideration how the movie unfolds, I believe that they must have dramatized it to a great extent. Wish they were successful in doing so. Unfortunately, great performances could not compensate for poor script and screenplay.
Super Reviewer
January 10, 2010
I think that it‚??s just as good as L.A. Confidential and a brilliant take on the 40s Crime and Noir genre. Unlike L.A. Confidential, Brian De Palma is an incredibly skilled director who has a vast background on film history, so naturally it‚??s a better looking film. The story is condensed in a different fashion, but it‚??s more faithful to James Ellroy‚??s original story. The performances are a lot more stylized, but I for one loved them. Everyone from Josh Hartnett to Mia Kirshner were really fun to watch. It just had a really great feel to it and I think it‚??s De Palma‚??s best work in years.
Super Reviewer
½ October 18, 2006
I ordered this film after watching a recent British TV Drama called The Red Dahlia and thought the case would be of interest.

Whilst this was about the Elizebeth Shaw case, the investigation seemed to revolve more around the investigators.

I like the era, the costumes etc and Scarlett Johansson looked very much the part, but this film was so dull and the voiceover was more suited to a an old Private Eye style film.

Didn?t work for me.
Super Reviewer
½ March 29, 2008
omg so borin its so terrrible i actually cant be botherd t write something!
Super Reviewer
½ June 14, 2009
The Black Dahlia follows a fictional story about two LAPD detectives (Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart) who are part of a task force to solve the butchering of an aspiring actress who is found hacked up in Hollywood. The death is true. The rest of the bullshit that De Palma throws onto the screen is not as you are treated to two hours of bad acting, direction, screenwriting, but at least the costumes look good.

For such a grade A cast the acting in Black Dahlia is below high school theater class level. I think this is the first time I can say that is 100% all around. Everyone sucked in this film. What's more is that the worst casting of the decade has to be Hillary Swank as the femme fatale who is the dark key to the whole thing. Oh yeah, she just won an Oscar. Who gives a shit if the role is right for her. What was De Palma thinking?

Of course Brian De Palma has accomplished nothing as a director in almost twenty years. His tombstone will read that here lies the guy that directed Scarface, that over rated, over produced film that turned Pacino into a screamer. De Palma keeps reaching for something and never quite grasps it.

So if you're into two hours of mess, try the Black Dahlia that throws every cliche known to man onto the screen. If you're expecting Zodiac, don't bother. Apparently a straight crime story isn't enough for De Palma and company.
Super Reviewer
January 23, 2007
who else but brian depalma could take a phenomenal cast and one of the most interesting murders in american history and turn it into a sloppy mess on screen. johanssons polarizing presence on screen is all that saves this horrible film from reaching the depths of film making. the story was incoherent at best, and most of the film was spent on things that had nothing to do with the tale at hand. what a waste of film.
Super Reviewer
½ March 17, 2007
Based on a real case from 1947, The Black Dahlia refers to the murder of a wannabe starlet investigated by detectives Aaaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett. Brian De Palma does his very best to ape the classic noirs of the 40s, and visually, it's great as it beautifully recreates the glamour and atmosphere of the era. The sound track is also excellent, and I must say I had high hopes because it actually starts off pretty well with some nice interplay between the two and some interesting plot developments. Irritations soon started to creep in though, as Brian De Palma's clunky insensitive direction and penchant for pointless gimmicks reared their ugly heads; the scene shot in first person for no discernible reason being probably the worst example. Then as the story gets messier and more sensationalist, it starts to look more like one of those tasteless "erotic thrillers" of the 80s. Eventually you realise that the plot is going to be one of those when our hero just happens to trip over the clues that solve the case in the last reel and that you've just wasted 90 minutes of your life. It certainly looks nice, but De Palma tried to make Chintown and ended up with another Mulholland Falls.
Super Reviewer
December 24, 2007
Another great De Palma movie and another great Ellroy adaptation, although some of the backstory could've been left out.
Super Reviewer
March 28, 2007
Whatever he was going for he missed.

Great cinematography though
Super Reviewer
½ January 22, 2007
This crime noir thriller based on true events gathers a cast of fresh faces, who have to fight against an uninspired and unexciting script. While the acting is decent, especially by Mia Kirshner in her flashback parts, it's still somewhat hard to care about anything that's going on in a very confusing storyline. All that's nicely filmed, but terribly slow at times and with dots of humor that just don't wanna fit. At least the solution is somewhat surprising, but only few viewers will even get that far. And they actually don't miss all that much.
Super Reviewer
August 5, 2008
There are a lot of subplots to this movie, but I guess the main plot is Bucky and Lee's attempt to solve the Black Dahlia's murder. I quite enjoyed Hilary Swank's part. I didn't realize it was her until I read the cast list after I watched the movie.
Super Reviewer
½ September 12, 2006
I really really didn't understand the movie... They just don't give any clue... Bad editing too... They just too fast changing of scenes, even the truth is I just trying to understand the movie.... The lights was bad too... Not because the setting is mostly night so the pictures must be dark too... The cast was great, having Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, and Aaron Eckhart in a movie is brilliant!! But what Brian DePalma did wasn't brilliant enough... He gave a wrong direction for the actors... Even Hilary Swank, two times Oscar winner, looks bad in this movie... Can't say lot... It's just waste my time for watching it...
Super Reviewer
October 23, 2007
I thought I heard this was good, but boy did it suck. Could not have been more uninteresting at first. i could not follow a single line of dialog because it was written so poorly. Then I feel asleep (which was the most enjoyable part of the experience). The end was pretty insane and was the only reason we give 2 stars. I got to stop watching Josh Hartnett movies.
Super Reviewer
½ February 5, 2008
Not very good. If I could go back and instead choose not to watch this film, I would. No need to over-traumatize myself with Black Dahlia.

First off, the direction is quite sloppy. Half the time, I didn't understand what on Earth was happening in the scenes. I got tired of the technical police terminology and the crazy name-dropping of criminals and whatnot. The antagonists are mentioned lightly as though I was supposed to know who they were or something. The script isn't very good, therefore; it tries to scan too many things without explaining any.

The plot develops around Betty Short's infamous murder. In real life, it hasn't been solved. This is a fictionalized version in which the mystery is solved by a detective named Bucky something. Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank are, um, love interests. Aaron Eckhart is his supercop partner. Mia Kirshner plays the melodramatic role of Betty Short. She's good at it.

Isn't this movie supposed to be about Betty Short? If not, don't name it The Black Dahlia! About 20% of an entire movie is actually about the Black Dahlia. The rest is just a story about this detective Bucky something and how many women he screws and mistakes he makes. I don't really care about Bucky. I was disappointed in that sense. What's worse, Aaron Eckhart leaves the story far too soon and I was left alone with Josh Hartnett... not necessarily my favorite actor.

Here's the deal. They name the movie The Black Dahlia, but when they actually show Elizabeth Short, she's either on a nude film, being horribly mutilated or actually dead and cut in half. A movie about The Black Dahlia would be better off actually being about the Black Dahlia. It would have been far more interesting, and Mia Kirshner could've been put to better use. Instead we get Hilary Swank in an incomprehensible role.

The Black Dahlia disappointed me a great deal, especially when I thought of what it could've been. Blame the source material or the screenwriter, it doesn't work.
Super Reviewer
November 12, 2006
More or less critically savaged, I was quick to offer some degree of praise for De Palma's adaptation of Ellroy's noir novel. Though admittedly nowhere near LA Confidential's heights, The Black Dahlia is highly intruiging, and features some of De Palma's greatest camerawork. Witness the sweeping crane shot across the streets just before our detectives' attempted sting operation for proof. Seeveral seem to have made comment that it is very hard to follow, but for the most part I consider this to be on the right side of befuddling, this is a mystery after all. Some complaints are valid: Hartnett tries, but fails to convince as a world-weary 'tec, and Johansson's role is essentially eye-candy-with-murky-past, a seeming stab at noir for the sake of evoking that mood. This carries on to the needless film-savvy referencing, most notably the staircase scene, clearly evoking Vertigo and De Palma's own Scarface. If these are included in the hope of elevating the film to those levels, it falls short. In summary, worth a watch, and certainly not as bad as widely reported.
Super Reviewer
January 23, 2008
I didn't find this film boring at all. Confusing, yes, but not boring. I'll agree with the consensus that "L.A. Confidential" is a much better movie than "The Black Dahlia", but the source novel was better to begin with. I would certainly say, however, that Curtis Hanson's directorial flair is no match for De Palma's audacious crane shots and long subjective-camera takes. People don't like this film because it makes them feel stupid; it's so dense and intricate that it simply cannot be digested in a single viewing, much like De Palma's neglected masterpiece, "Femme Fatale". At least four fifths of the movie are fine but De Palma does fluff the denouement, making it unclear why the Dahlia was killed in the first place. Fiona Shaw's spectacularly awful performance as Ramona Linscott doesn't help, turning a poor climax into a risible one. Was Elizabeth Short murdered because Ramona was jealous of George Tilden's obsession with her? And, if he was so obsessed, why did George assist with the killing rather than try to prevent it? Very odd. Also, Mia Kirshner doesn't look anything like Hilary Swank! Still, visually it's a treat, the meticulous period recreation is a joy to behold, and it's nice to see De Palma reunited with old cronies like Vilmos Zsigmond, Gregg Henry and William Finley.
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