The Black Dahlia

Inspired by the most notorious unsolved murder in California history.

Drama Crime Thriller
121 min     5.635     2006     France


In 1940s Los Angeles, two former boxers-turned-cops must grapple with corruption, narcissism, stag films and family madness as they pursue the killer of an aspiring young actress.


John Chard wrote:
I have been pointing my gun at a lot of people this week. A box office failure and a neo-noir film that confounded critics and fans alike, The Black Dahlia now appears to be a pic that has had its strengths ignored. As the clamour to kick Brian De Palma continues unabated to this day, and the point blank refusal to accept that Josh Hartnett is a better actor than the likes of Pearl Harbor suggests, it's a film worthy of a revisit by genre/style fans alike. Plot revolves around the infamous murder of one Elizabeth Short in Hollywood, 1947. An aspiring actress who was found butchered and her murder to this day remains unsolved. De Palma and his writer Josh Friedman adapt from noir legend James Ellroy's novel of the same name, the crux of the story is about two hot-to-trot detectives who get involved in the Short case, and pretty soon there is a can of worms that has been shaken and opened, and there's dizzying worms everywhere - we think? De Palma loves noir, he has dabbled with it for a long time, not all of it works, but often he delivers for like minded cinephiles. With expectation levels high and following in the slipstream of the critical darling that was L.A. Confidential, Black Dahlia never really had a hope of achieving its lofty ambitions, yet it's a tremendously realised picture from a noir stand point. Whilst it showcases the technical wizardry of the director. The charges of it being convoluted are fair, it's a spinning narrative, stories within stories, characterisations obtuse, but so was The Big Sleep! I know, I know, this is not fit to lace the boots of Hawks' genius movie, but tricksy narratives have always been a fundamental part of many a film noir, so why the distaste for this one? Especially since the period design, costuming, styling, photography and characterisations are so rich in detail? For instance Hartnett's detective is gumshoe nirvana, while Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank fatale the femme with mischievous glee. But of course De Palma then spells it out for the finale, explaining things, a sort of macabre wrap up for those that needed it. Either way he was never going to win, it's too complex, it didn't need spelling out, while Mr. De Palma we have to tell you that your characters have been too cold, we don't feel them?! Huh? This is noirville, a place frequented by bad people, idiots and hapless dreamers, of dupes and double crossers. Hell there's even a suggestion of necrophiliac tendencies in this, and that's before we even delve into the machinations of the two femme fatales, a family that's lacking Adams Family Values and coppers of dubious motives. Yeah, it's cold, and yes De Palma is guilty of trying to please all parties by covering all bases, but it's far from being a stinker. Haters of De Palma, Hartnett and complex noir narratives can knock two points off of my own personal rating, otherwise it's 7/10.