"The Black Dahlia": ‘Confidentially’ speaking, it ain’t great

Fri, 09/22/2006 - 11:36am
By: Michael Boylan

“L.A. Confidential,” which was based on a novel by James Ellroy had everything going for it. Big stars like Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger and Kevin Spacey and a good balance of several plots that all intertwine in a big finish. The film rightfully got nominated for several Academy Awards and it did justice to Ellroy’s novel, while introducing numerous new readers of his work. “The Black Dahlia” isn’t in the same league as “L.A. Confidential.” The cast is decent but not out of this world and director Brian DePalma, whose career is very hit or miss, foul-tips this movie. He makes contact in places, but it doesn’t result in a very good film.

The first problem is the several plotlines that are supposed to intertwine. One could make an argument that they do, but if they do, it is in a confusing and not terribly exciting finale. The film follows two cops, Lee (Aaron Eckhart) and Dwight (Josh Hartnett), who move into the exciting world of the warrants division after participating in a boxing match aimed at drumming up support for the police. Soon, the two new best friends are placed on a homicide - a case known as the Black Dahlia murder, which involves the gruesome killing of a wannabe Hollywood starlet. Lee becomes obsessed with the case, his wife, Kay (Scarlett Johansen), starts to fall for Dwight, and when Lee is murdered on the job, Dwight is determined to get to the bottom of the case.

Oh, but add to that fairly straight forward story-line, the release of Kay’s former pimp, the hunt for a fugitive, possible police corruption and about four or five other things that may or may not be important when all is said and done.

“The Black Dahlia” also suffers from an inconsistent tone. Some scenes, especially early on, hit their mark very well. The boxing match between Lee and Dwight is good, although kind of gross, and the glory days of their early partnership sets everything up nicely as well. Things start to go a little screwy when Lee goes haywire and by the time Dwight falls for a young socialite (Hilary Swank looking good in a movie for a change) dabbling in the seamy underbelly of L.A., things really go off track. The oddest scene involves Dwight’s dinner with the socialite’s family. The weirdness of the family had to be intentional but it got so campy that it became ridiculous. Unfortunately, one bad scene can really hurt a film and there were a few more in the picture, including one in a lesbian bar with K.D. Lang singing Cole Porter.

The biggest problem with “The Black Dahlia” is squandered potential. The viewer sees what the film could have been and there are a number of scenes that are very good. Screen test scenes with the “Dahlia” herself are intriguing and Swank and Hartnett build up some good chemistry. Unfortunately, the ending is unsatisfying and will doom this picture to be a forgettable mess.


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