22 February 2006

Review: The Black Dahlia Disappoints...To Say The Least...

Hey guys, it's Donnie...I just got back from a screening of Brian DePalma's newest, The Black Dahlia, over in Sherman Oaks. Let's get straight to the point: This movie, while FAR from finished, is a disaster of tremendous proportions.

First off, I know nothing about the true story of the Black Dahlia nor have I read James Ellroy's novel. I had heard about the movie some time ago and knew basically what it was about, and, being a bit of a DePalma fan (love The Untouchables...but then again, who doesn't?) I REALLY wanted to like this movie.

I'm not going to give away any plot stuff, but the gist of it is a 1940s LA detective noir (think LA Confidential, but without making nearly as much sense) about two detectives (Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart) who are investigating the death of a a young wannabe actress (from Medford MA!) that the newspapers dub The Black Dahlia. Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank also co-star as various female love interests. That's all you really need to know, and probably just about all that really makes too much sense.

The first 45 minutes or so are actually pretty damn good, but as soon as the body of the Dahlia is discovered, the movie quickly grinds to a deathly slow pace. It's full of supporting characters that have far moe screentime than they deserve, subplots that don't really pay off, and abrupt and complete 180 degree shifts in character for seemingly no particular reason. Swank doesn't show up until halfway through the movie (I had completely forgotten she was even in it by the time she arrived) and, unfortunately, DePalma's direction isn't really any kind of return to greatness. There are a number of bizarre and ridiculously self-indulgent choices strewn throughout the film.

The most painful thing, without question, is that there are "clues" to the mystery strewn throughout the movie and everytime something significant happens, it's painfully obvious that it's going to be important later on. And yet, DePalma constantly reminds us of all these little "clues" through voiceover and visual flashbacks. At one point, there's a scene between Johansson and Hartnett and when the scene is over it cuts to Hartnett alone in a room and we hear a voiceover of the conversation that litterally took place 15 seconds ago. (I'm not embellishing at all here, and 15 seconds might even be generous.) So you've got two sort of plot arcs going on throughout the film, with "clues" for both and then in the last 10 minutes we get about five times more information than we've recieved in the last hour and 45 minutes. The two arcs are then strung together by a VERY tenous thread and the explanation for what happened comes almost totally out of left field. The score was also terrible, but they assured us that the titles and score were all temporary.

So what's good? Well, the production design is great. The sets, costumes, props...they all really help to provide the proper 1940s noir atmosphere. The dialogue is all pretty good and I feel like at one point there was probably a pretty good script involved. Most of the performances are actually very good. Hartnett and Eckhardt are excellent, (probably Hartnett's best work to date, although that's probably not saying much) and Mia Kirshner is AMAZING as Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia. We only really see her through a series of black and white "screen tests" but she's utterly fantastic. Scarlet Johansson is more than a little disappointing, although she isn't given too much to work with here. I feel like recently she's been given alot of very underwritten characters and been unable to elevate her characters off the written page. Hilary Swank also plays an extremely bizarre character with a downright silly accent. who I never really liked, but then again I've never really been blown away by Hilary Swank to begin with. But nothing compares to the totally batshit crazy character played by Fiona Shaw. She...there are really no words. It has to be seen to be believed. One of my favorite characters actually ended up being the LAPD lieutenant played by Mike Starr (or, as everyone sitting around me referred to him when it came time to fill out the surveys, "The guy from Dumb And Dumber who has an ulcer"). He's got a smaller supporting role, but he really commits to it and turns in some fine, fine work, probably the best non-comedy work of his career.

Bottom Line? The movie is probably about 30 minutes too long and needs to be SERIOUSLY re-edited. The direction leaves a lot to be desired, although there are a number of really great performances here. Unfortunately, I feel like even after they make all the changes they need to make, the movie is still gonna fall short of it's potential. Make no mistake, this could have been truly, truly great, but my feeling is that without some serious reshoots, the movie is broke beyond repair.

Too bad.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Little Giant Ladder