Review: The Black Dahlia


[In celebration of the forthcoming release of L.A. Noire, Flixist has teamed up with its sister sites Japanator and Destructoid to give a bit of background on what noir (we’re spelling it that way) is all about. Throughout the next week and leading up to L.A. Noire’s release, we’ll be reviewing/analyzing classic noirs set in L.A., explaining exactly what noir is and a few more awesome things.]

When it came to Modern Method’s Noir Week, The Black Dahlia was one of those movies that nobody on staff wanted to touch. For years I had heard about what an absolute mess the film was and decided to task myself with tackling it on. My thinking was that the expectations of a Brian De Palma helmed adaptation of a book written by the writer of L.A. Confidential was so large that it was doomed to fail, and that someone unaffected by that hype (myself) could look at this disappointment and find a good film that people never really gave an honest try. Besides, the Black Dahlia murder is the main case in L.A. Noire that strings everything together, and it would be a shame if we didn’t cover it for Noir Week.

To my dismay, everybody was right, and I really should’ve stayed away from this film.

So for a movie about a famous murder case in the 1940’s, much to my chagrin, there isn’t much at all about the case. Instead the film gets bogged down with stories of boxing, police corruption,and the problem of not sleeping with your partners girl and banging another girl because she looks like the murder victim you’re investigating. There were a lot of liberties taken with the case, so much so that in the end the film has very little to do with the Black Dahlia murder case. There was so much opportunity to comment on the fanaticism and gruesomeness surrounding the case, but all that was just glossed over in exchange for other intricacies about everybody who wasn’t Elizabeth Short (Black Dahlia). 

The biggest problem with The Black Dahlia is the inconsequential turn of events that happens throughout the entire film. The entire plot is a series of “this happened and then that happened”, resulting in a string of random happenstance that has no sense of flow or progression. By the middle of the film, I was so bewildered by how fast events went into each other that it became a chore to follow this car crash of a plot. I’ve read that Brian De Palma had to shave the movie down from a three hour cut, so I’m not quite sure whether to blame the script or De Palma’s direction/editing, but I’m going to go ahead and blame De Palma. It’s so mechanical and lacking soul that it I struggled to stay awake, and it’s a wonder to see how a case and genre so interesting could have the life sucked out of it so consistently.

The actors don’t really do much to help the film either, as it seems that every character sticks to one emotion throughout the film. Scarlett Johansson is there to look sexy, Josh Hartnett is there to squint and furrow his brow and Hilary Swank’s performance can only be described as “English sex squirrel”. The only person that has any kind of charm in the film is Aaron Eckhart and he’s not in the film nearly enough. Combined with awkward swipes, cuts and a POV shot that is stark and alienating, and you get a film that has little to no redeeming qualities to it. 

I realize that there were a lot of issues during production and a lot of hooplah raised during promotion, but I can’t feasibly understand how such an absolute mess of a film this was. It’s as hokey as the noir films of early years, but with none of the sincerity or soul to match it. I pray that everybody at Rockstar Games has never seen this film as it could potentially affect L.A. Noire like a virus. It’s noir in the loosest sense, but it is such a sh*t show that it could barely be called a movie.

4.35 – Terrible (4s are terrible in many ways. They’re bad enough that even diehard fans of its genre, director, or cast still probably won’t enjoy it at all, and everyone else will leave the theater incredibly angry. Not only are these not worth renting, you should even change the TV channel on them in the future.)