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on January 21, 2015
(Truthfully, I feel this is more of a 3.5 star effort, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for reasons I'll elaborate upon.)

I should start off by warning the reader that I can't adequately review this film - either on its own merits, or as an adaptation of the novel - without at least touching upon a small handful of major spoilers. Therefore, if one *really* doesn't want to have any of the large twists ruined, it might be best not to continue.

After all of the terrible reviews I've read of this movie here and elsewhere, I came into this with extremely low expectations, but was very pleasantly surprised. I had almost literally *just* finished reading the book this movie was based on, however, and I have some thoughts on this point.

First of all, it's important to note the fact that it's fairly obvious a large portion of the negative reviewers have never read the book: the overwhelming majority of the criticism heaped upon this movie that doesn't have to do with the acting has to do with factors inherent to the original story and the adaptation thereof. Read a synopsis and reviews of the book, first; Ellroy admits to taking quite a few liberties with the facts of the actual case for the sake of...well, for the sake of his own catharsis about his mother, if you read his essay on the matter (which comes as the new afterword to recent editions of the book). So, no, if you're looking for a 100% factual accounting of the Elizabeth Short murder case and investigation, you're not going to find it here. And people who read a lot of mystery/thriller novels of this length (as opposed to the older and much shorter 200-ish page novels by the likes of Hammett, Chandler, et al.) will know how dicey it can be to adapt a dense, story-driven 300+ page novel into a movie of under 3 hours. Depending on the precise source material, this task can range from difficult to impossible. With Ellroy's narrative focus bouncing around from topic to topic like an easily-distracted kitten (in some cases, he doesn't even stay on a single line of investigation within the *same page*), multiple distinct climaxes followed by points where the book could have ended logically, and a tremendous number of dead-ends that don't end up having any bearing on the case, this book clearly edged towards the "impossible" end of that spectrum: the original cut of this film was over 3 hours, and De Palma had to edit an hour of it out, which is a primary reason for many of the film's pacing and storyline issues. I suspect it still would have felt harried even with the extra hour, given how much of the novel they had to leave out. (I suppose I should add that I'm not necessarily a particular fan of Brian De Palma, so I'm not just some loyal apologist.)

Second, for those who have actually read the book, I pose *the* important (and largely ignored in the other reviews) question: was this movie a good adaptation of the book? I would have to say yes, very much so. It's undeniable that, due to the immense scope and density of the book (which included multiple-chapter trips to Boston, New Jersey, Tijuana and Ensenada that were all dropped for the film), entire plot threads; subplots; and even major characters had to be dropped for time, and several major and important story elements (Bucky Bleichert's fall from grace, Lee Blanchard's death, the extent of Lee's corruption and Kay Lake's involvement therein, the Sprague/Linscott family's ultimate fates) had to be altered to accommodate these changes. But they were tweaked in ways that still work well in the overall context and story of the film. Ellroy spends an inordinate amount of time and ink on the Fire & Ice duo's infatuation/fixation on Elizabeth "Betty" Short/The Dahlia - though De Palma eschews the Bleichert narration from the book which literally states as much, it manages to come through quite nicely in a very subtle way with the sequences of Bucky viewing Betty's screen tests. One thing I often use as a barometer for how well a movie adapts a book is how much dialog from the book makes it through to the film unaltered, and many of the important scenes jumped out at me in this regard (it's tough to forget the phrase "tighter than a crab's ass" once you've heard it).

The production design, one of the most important things for a period piece in our increasingly superficial film culture, was astonishingly immersive and well-done - I stop just short of saying *completely* "authentic," however, because the large part of me that's obsessed with 1930s/40s imagery (as a card-carrying member of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles) can pick apart a few anachronisms, inaccuracies, and (most commonly) improbabilities within the setting and design. Still, it's all quite beautifully-done, and - to the casual, non-pedant observer - quite period-accurate. Most importantly, it also met my expectations as to what the set pieces would have looked like as I was reading the book. The musical score is alarmingly similar to Goldsmith's for "LA Confidential" - a good thing insofar as it was appropriate to the story and aesthetics, even if lacking in originality.

Ultimately, what hurts this film most are all the things that people have already pointed out: story flaws, mediocre acting, its pacing and ponderous length. I've already addressed the writing- and editing-related issues, insofar as they're largely inherent to and inherited from the source novel. I didn't find the acting to be any great "nails on a chalkboard"-type stumbling block, but I would agree none of the main players deserved particular recognition. I was rather impressed with Mia Kirshner's "screen test" performances as Betty Short, however. Through these, and her, we see the character Ellroy intended to portray: the inept actress and tragic figure. Some have said that this film can't decide whether to embrace or parody the film noir tropes and cliches, but I didn't notice this to any great extent. Indeed, the movie actually tones down several of the most egregious introspective examples of this from Ellroy's novel (the aforementioned example of Bucky viewing Betty's screen tests standing in for his outright obsession with her in so many words of narration, the omission of numerous examples of his lusting for Short after-the-fact).

Still, as an adaptation of the novel, I don't find enough of these things here for me to consider this film anything besides what it is: a just "good" adaptation of an excellent, albeit flawed, novel. Overall, I don't really know what, if anything (or how much), could have been done to improve upon this, given the source material. It's the sort of thing that really would have stood best as a mini-series - each of the novel's four "sections" as an hour-long episode - allowing writer, director, and designer to really spread their wings without having to edit out or alter too much of the original novel.

I recommend this movie to people who enjoyed the book, albeit with the caveat that it helps one's ability to follow it if the book is still quite fresh in one's mind. I would cautiously recommend it to people fond of noir fiction (particularly neo-noir films) and 1940s aestetics, but not strongly, for all of the aforementioned reasons.
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on May 22, 2016
If I could give this movie zero stars I would - and I generally LOVE movies. I have never seen such a riveting subject matter with the potential for such an interesting exploration be presented in such a boring way. The movie is supposed to be in a semi film noir style but it translates as simply slow to the screen. The story line is more about some strange love relationships and friendships than it is about the case itself and/or the woman on whom the movie is supposed to be based, Elizabeth Short. I don't think I've seen a movie with such potential be done so poorly in a long time. I will stick with documentaries on the subject as this film had relatively little relationship to any of the facts of the crime.
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on April 9, 2015
Technically, this movie is outstanding. Vilmos Zsigmond's Oscar-nominated cinematography and the recreation of 1940s Los Angeles is quite stunning. The production design team certainly deserved an Oscar nod, as well. I understand director De Palma generated a three-hour cut that was trimmed down to under two hours (probably by studio suits), which would explain the rather disjointed storytelling. Every cast member has their moments but on the whole this is not the film they will be remembered for. Aaron Eckhart's high energy, self-involved character is a bit much at times, but one cannot argue he is not committed to his character's ego! Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia in the HARRY POTTER movies) delivers a gloriously unhinged performance as Hilary Swank's heavily medicated mother. Most critics dismiss her performance as over the top but with a character as such there is no top and Miss Shaw hits all the right marks (note to critics: people like this really do exist). PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE star William Finley (in his final film role) is chilling in a brief but memorable performance. Not De Palma's finest hour, but certainly a worthy effort and absolutely beautiful to watch.
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on October 15, 2016
It occurs to me that the motion picture may have succeeded, despite the obvious fiction, if it had been Kay Lake's perception of Ellroy's story based, albeit very loosely, on the tragic murder of Elizabeth Short.
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VINE VOICEon February 26, 2013
If you are looking for a movie about the murder mystery of Black Dahlia that fascinated the nation since 1947, then this not the movie you are looking for. Numerous television shows have been produced that document the murder in greater detail than this movie purports to do. The producers of this movie undertook this project with a great confidence that this will succeed in the same way as the movie "LA Confidential," which is based on the James Ellroy novel, but their calculations were erroneous. James Ellroy also wrote this novel about Black dahlia case but not so much about the murder per se, but about the cops of LAPD; the divisiveness, corruption, and coercion. The movie has plenty of sexual perversion, tramps, lesbian cocktail lounges of 1940s Los Angeles, and ménage a trios, violence and crime not directly related to the Black Dahlia case. Many of historical facts surrounding Elizabeth Short and her father were wrong. Her father lived near San Francisco not LA.

You don't hear about Black Dahlia murder until about 20-25 minutes into the movie and the main thing you learn about the murder victim is that she slept around with almost any man or a woman for a cigarette and sandwich. Unfortunately this is not what is said about the unfortunate victim, Elizabeth Short in many investigative television shows.

Scarlet Johansson and Hilary Swank are two of the finest performers of Hollywood but unfortunately their talents are not used appropriately. Poor Johansson is subjected to a strange and sometimes humiliating ménage a trios with her boy friend Aaron Eckhart (as 'Mr. Fire') and his pal Josh Hartnett (as 'Mr. Ice'). Did it make any difference to the movie if this relationship didn't exist? I can't help but compare this movie with "LA Confidential." I think the performance of Josh Harnett as a tough cop of LAPD is far superior to the performance of Russell Crowe.

1. L.A. Confidential
2. The Black Dahlia
3. The Black Dahlia
4. Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder
5. Black Dahlia Avenger II: Presenting the Follow-Up Investigation and Further Evidence Linking Dr. George Hill Hodel to Los Angeles's Black Dahlia and other 1940s- LONE WOMAN MURDERS
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on August 14, 2013
I was upset to see how many people had a strong dislike for this film. I found it to be a favorite in my collection. Perhaps some of the other viewers weren't expecting a movie more about the cops than the crime itself.
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on December 31, 2011
So, I have been reading up on the Black Dahlia... I'm 23 years old and until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of what had happened to Elizabeth Short. I've been watching all of the documentaries and reading a lot of the literature. I just read "The Black Dahlia" (the book written by James Ellroy) and I have to say, that the book is wonderful, but it wasn't the right version of the Elizabeth Short Theory to be translated into a film. And also... the Black Dahlia is more of a back drop to the story as opposed to the MAIN STORY. It would be like Christopher Nolan making a Batman Movie... and focusing a majority of the film about ALFRED.

Aside from the story not being upto par with the information about the Black Dahlia... with what they did with the movie... THEY HIT THE MARK. Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckert both gave some of their BEST PERFORMANCES in this film. The set design and photography were Academy Award Worthy (in fact despite the fact that this film was an F+ Failure, it was nominated for an Academy Award).

If you have no interest in the Black Dahlia Case and just like Time Period Films, then I would highly recommend this film... on the other hand if you know everything there is to know about Elizabeth Short and know that the only two plausible killer's are either "George Hodel" or "Walter Bailey"... then you might wanna watch this for the cinematography.

I WILL SAY, that if it wasn't for the lack of authenticity... I would have given this film 5 stars NO QUESTIONS ASKED.
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on July 11, 2013
OK so I guess you must have figured this out by reading my other reviews. yeah I'm an old bastard who just loves this period for movies anything from the 20's through the 50's are all OK by me and this one is one of the best perfect casting lots of old Hollywood landmarks and a true story to boot another one you can cuddle up to your girly while she crushes your hand and squeezes you in fright
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on April 23, 2014
This movie was absolutely thrilling. I LOVE it. Every second kept my attention.
Plus, Mia Kirshner is naked in this movie. What's not to love!?
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on July 19, 2016
Ordered this as a gift. The DVD arrived quickly and was well packaged. I had viewed this picture and enjoyed it. The movie incorporates facts of the actual event well. This is exactly the gift I wanted for a good friend.
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