Thursday, September 07, 2006

MovieWatch: "The Black Dahlia"

"The Black Dahlia"
Director: Brian DePalma
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 70
In a Nutshell: Although the names above the title may include Josh Hartnett, Hilary Swank, Scarlett Johansson and Aaron Eckhart, the true star of "The Black Dahlia" is director Brian DePalma, which has been the case for many of the helmer's finest movies. Josh Friedman's script takes the skeleton of James Ellroy's tortured novel and maintains several of the key themes, but it's really just an excuse for DePalma -- actually at his most restrained -- to mimic the film noir stylings of directors like Hawks and Huston, playing with shadows and perspective and delivering a slew of the his expected set pieces. It's a perfect story for DePalma, a murderous melodrama complete with all types of psychosexual obsession and doppelgangers, so he has fun even as the script has to pack near-endless exposition into several key scenes. Missing a number of main characters and instances from the book, what's on screen may leave lazy viewers wondering what the central mystery was, who the murder happened to be and why anything happened the way it did. But who cares about those things when DePalma is showing his usual mastery of the crane and he's working with craftsmen like cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, production designer Dante Ferretti and costumer Jenny Beavan? The movie suffers from black holes in the middle where Hartnett and Eckhart just aren't up for the degree of mental anguish required by the text. As usual, Hartnett's problem is that while he's capable of teenage angst and brooding, he never gets any deeper, while Eckhart is just hampered by the gaps in his storyline, holes that keep his arc from feeling believable. Johansson looks stunning in the period costumes and is quite sympathetic when she's quiet, but her flat delivery kills several lines. Swank looks like she's having fun playing the vamp and I'll forgive an accent that never quite settles. The film's best performances are Fiona Shaw's operatic over-acting as Swank's socialite mother and Mia Kirshner, who somehow makes the Dahlia into a fleshed out character despite minimal screentime. They weren't really ever going to make a literal adaptation of Ellroy's novel. It's too bleak. So I'll applaud the aspirations of this film despite its myriad flaws.

A full review will be up on Zap2it on Friday, Sept. 15. That may be my last Zap2it film review...


  1. Anonymous7:16 AM

    Fiona Shaw kicks so much ass. This is the most positive review I've read of this so far.

  2. Give the reactions of many of the folks I talked to after the screening, there are a lot of people who just don't get Brian DePalma, or who just aren't amused by what he does, for better or for worse.

    If you go in with tempered expectations, you'll enjoy the style-over-substance...


  3. I plan to see this films in the weekend. I'll admit, as much as I love Scarlett. I was disappointed in her performance in Match Point and I really, really loathed The Island.

    I'm still reading the book at the moment just to compare/contrast.

    It's great to hear from you Dan.