Year of Release - 2006
Rating - R
Director – Brian De Palma
Running Time – 121 Minutes
Studio – Universal Pictures
Probably best known to horror fans as the director of films like Sisters, Carrie and Dressed to Kill, Brian De Palma has had a varied film career with many hits and misses over the years, both in and out of the genre. His latest effort The Black Dahlia (marketed as the latest film from the man who brought us Scarface and The Untouchables) is adapted from a novel by James Ellroy, which chronicles a fictional hunt for a real life murderer in 1940’s Hollywood.
Starring Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart as boxing gumshoes Dwight Bleichert and Leland Blanchard, The Black Dahlia recounts their efforts to get to the bottom of one of the most brutal and notoriously unsolved murders in Hollywood history. Our unknown killer’s victim is Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), an aspiring actress who now lay in a ditch, sliced in half and gutted, carved with a permanent smile from ear to ear.
The mystery unravels and red herrings evolve including Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), Blanchard’s flirtatious live in lover and Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank) an over sexed socialite whose father holds a lot of suspicion and power – a deadly combination. Our characters play cat and mouse with one another as secrets and motivations are slowly revealed, perhaps even too slowly.
De Palma is real crafty (and as a director, in top form) as he mimics noir down to every last minute detail, and most of the performances are serviceable if not extraordinary. Visually, there’s a lot to love here; however, the film feels a bit disjointed with an overly ambitious and long first half that deals too much in the life and times of our troubled detectives and not nearly enough time on the title subject.
As a resolution is finally made available, events unfold in such rapid succession towards the end of the film that the audience is lost in a flurry of false leads and almost unnecessary twists and turns. So little happens early on in the film, and far too much leads us to a mostly uneventful conclusion.
While The Black Dahlia is far from traditional horror, it’s freakishly gruesome enough to appeal to those tolerant of a film that’s probably about 30 minutes too long. In considering De Palma’s extensive library of directorial efforts, The Black Dahlia finds itself smack dab right in the middle – which means while it’s certainly not outstanding; it’s definitely worth a look.