The Black Dahlia
Brian De Palma's adaptation of James Elroy's 1987 novel was a hotly anticipated affair. The story of the infamous and brutal murder of 22 year old aspiring actress, Elizabeth Short, was dubbed 'unfilmable' in 1947 - and remains so after this appalling waste of time.
The film follows two tough cops on the hunt for the killer responsible for a crime that rocked Hollywood at the time, mainly due to the gruesome state the victim was found in. Cut in half, disembowelled and sliced from the mouth to both ears, Short's murder attracted a media frenzy. In response, the police department put their most celebrated cops on the case. Nicknamed Mr. Fire and Mr. Ice after their successful careers as boxers, these two soon find the public spotlight brings with it unbearable pressure from every angle to see this case through to a conviction. Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), the gung-ho half of the duo, becomes strangely consumed by the case - much to the worry of his troubled wife
played here by Scarlett Johansson, His partner, Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Harnett), assumes the role of the younger, naive cop who isn't fazed by the celebrity status, but just wants to see his idealistic view of justice done.
I would be here all day if I tried to divulge how the plot progresses from here and to be honest I'm not too sure myself. The story is packed full of subplot upon subplot to the point of utter confusion. Elroy's previous screen adaptation L.A. Confidential is just as complicated, but it is written and acted with such skill that you really engage with the characters and try hard to follow them through the complex web of double-crosses and deceit. The opposite is the case here - as the acting is amateur, with each performance rarely rising above a stereotype depiction of 40's film noir cop movies. To be honest I never expected much from Hartnett but I had imagined that the presence of Oscar Winner Hilary Swank would inject a touch of quality to the proceedings, but unfortunately not. To describe Johansson's performance as wooden would be an insult to Pinocchio. The only exception here is Mia Krishner's mesmerising scenes as Betty Short, seen in flash backs and found screen tests. She is dazzlingly beautiful and her deeply innocent and desperately sad eyes give you a clue as to why so many real life detectives became obsessed with this case.
The film as a whole is visually stunning, but style is never a wise substitute for content and despite the dazzling aesthetics De Palma fails to convince his audience of the depth and seriousness of his characters or the period in which they exist. In 1982 Steve Martin did a far better job in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and that was a spoof, not to mention Bugsy Malone.