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Customer Review

113 of 141 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars no fragrant flower, October 1, 2006
Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia" is like a beautiful sports car with no engine under the hood: it sits there looking mighty pretty, but it never actually goes anywhere.

The movie is based on the James Ellroy novel of the same name, a highly fictionalized telling of Hollywood's most notorious unsolved murder case. On January 15, 1947, a young woman named Beth Short was found brutally slain - her body gruesomely dismembered and gutted - in a field in Los Angeles. The case became a cause celebre around the nation, with speculation rife as to the background of the victim and the identity of the perpetrator, but the actual killer was never found. The movie focuses on two fictional homicide detectives, played by Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart, who, to varying degrees, become obsessed with the case. Their investigation leads them into the heart of a film noir maelstrom comprised almost exclusively of twisted psychosexual perverts and Tinsel Town sickos.

Thanks to Vilmos Zsigmond's fine cinematography and all the spiffy 1940's paraphernalia with which the costume designer and art directors have decked out the movie, "The Black Dahlia" is never anything but dazzling to look at, but in almost every other respect, the film is a monumental disappointment. Although the first half is relatively straightforward in its approach and style, by about the midway point, De Palma's trademark cinematic excesses - stilted dialogue, floridly staged action scenes, campy performances, and overemphatic music - begin to take over and the film becomes an incoherent mess.

It becomes virtually impossible to keep all the characters straight without a program, and poor Fiona Shaw - so wonderful in "Mountains of the Moon" - is required to overact so outrageously that audiences the world over will be doubled over in laughter at her scenery-chewing histrionics. Her climactic speech - in which she names names and blurts out all the details of the crime, of course - will surely go down in movie history as one of those classic it's-so-bad-it's-good moments that movie lovers everywhere will be mimicking and howling over for years to come.

Not that the other actors fare much better. Hartnett gives his all to the role of Bucky Bleichert but, as an actor, he lacks the gravitas necessary to make the character interesting. Eckhart is forced to thrash around inside a character whose motivations are never convincingly spelled out for either the actor or the audience, and Scarlet Johansson and Hilary Swank seem to be doing parodies of crime thriller vixens rather than serious interpretations of believable, three-dimensional characters.

It pains me to have to say this, but no one comes out smelling like a rose with this "Dahlia."
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 9, 2007 10:17:10 AM PST
100% agreed, well put.

Posted on Feb 13, 2007 6:38:37 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 13, 2007 6:44:15 PM PST
R. A. Bean says:
I couldn't agree less with your poor choice of criticizing Fiona Shaw's BRILLIANT performance, one that could easily rival that of Bette Davis In "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" to Gloria Swanson in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (anyone remember "I'm ready for my close up, Mr. Demille."?) Fiona brought down the house with her awesome performance! So extremely dark, comical, and frighteneing all in the same breath. WOW!! Sorry that you didn't enjoy her in this as much as I (and several others) do. Who can EVER forget "Shut up, EMMMMMEETTT!!!"? Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 21, 2007 11:00:55 PM PDT
Yeah what R.A. said!

Posted on Dec 7, 2008 12:32:33 AM PST
Damon Devine says:
That Shaw lady was the only believable character in this! Had the film been black and white, one would NEVER have been able to tell she was not straight out of the 1940's. She was perfect.

Posted on Sep 13, 2014 5:28:07 PM PDT
Stellar Jay says:
I enjoyed the book and love the genre but this film is just awful! The principal actors seemed like children pretending to be they were mimicking adult behavior without understanding it. What a mess!
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Location: Valencia, Ca USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 7,005