Review: ‘The Black Dahlia’

Pacing. Too. Slow. Falling. Asleep.

Ofcr. Dwight ‘Bucky’ Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) manages to get himself paired with Sgt. Leland ‘Lee’ Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) to get out of a spot of trouble in his career. The woman Lee lives with, Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson) becomes both an interest and an enigma to Bucky as the buddy cops get chummy both inside and out of the professional lives. When a woman named Elizabeth Short is found brutally murdered on the cops watch while pursuing another case, a series of clues seemingly unrelated to the case start pointing the accusing finger inside the police department, and Bucky finds himself at odds with his new adopted family as the investigation begins to border on obsession.

The book takes place over a period of year; the movie just months. Drawn from a novel based on the infamous and still-unsolved 1940s murder of “The Black Dahlia,” both the book and the film must reveal all the dots before they can be connected to a conclusion. Viewers can sense the a coming decent into obsession for everyone involved and the destruction that usually follows, but with too little time devoted to too many characters and too much plot, you would think the film would seem rushed. Instead, the opposite happens as scenes are rushed onto the screen but nothing seems to happen. Although this is all fresh from director Brian De Palma, the editing may to be blame and possibly a poorly realized adaption of book to script.

There are an amazing number of strong and influential female parts. Mia Kirshner appears ever so briefly as the living Elizabeth Short (and is reportedly much lovelier than the actual Short) and establishes the haunting infatuation of the character’s look and legacy. Scarlett Johansson takes on the role of muse to the two police detectives but still seems underused in spite of her screen time. Hilary Swank goes completely vamp in her seductive imitation of The Dahlia, but her performance still falls short of completely disappearing into it. To Swank’s credit, it may have been playing opposite Josh Harnett, who for no apparent reason seems impossibly two dimensional in complete contradiction to the supposed changes his character goes through. Aaron Eckhart is simply not used to his potential at all.

With a dream cast set in a period piece based on one of the most famous unsolved murder in Hollywood, this film adaption of the fictionalized Dahlia story should have been destined for awards season if nothing else, but a too early release for this film is already a hint that there’s very little support by the studio for anything small, golden, and statuette-like. It’s too bad, too, because the case itself is as grizzly as it is intriguing, creating a instant forbidden obsession like a modern day goth or vampire character. As it is, the finished product is a slowly unfolding mess that not only leaves a modern day take on The Black Dahlia murder unfulfilled but ends up being forgettable enough that someone else in the future may still be able to take another stab at the idea. Well, several stabs, actually, and a whole lot of blood.

(a one skull out of four recommendation)

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