THE BLACK DAHLIA
STARRING Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johansson
DIRECTED BY Brian De Palma
Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, Mulholland Drive there seems to be a neverending interest in films that dust the glitter off Tinseltowns golden age and reveal the seediness behind the fairy tale shine.
Granted, The Black Dahlia, unlike last weekends Hollywoodland, doesnt focus on overly famous faces from the post-Second World War era. The characters here are rather generic guys in hats and dames in lip-gloss, shuffling through the corruptness of L.A.s underbelly.
However, considering the year is 1947 and the setting is the city of Angels, theres still that fantasy glitz, the obsession with dreams of fame and stardom that only add to the curiosity of the proceedings
especially when things turn ugly.
Little surprise, the movie is based on a James Ellroy novel, a fictional account of the infamous Black Dahlia murder case. His crime tales traditionally feature celebrity culture linking arms with criminal behaviour. In Ellroys world, dirty deeds are painted with a stylish brush and, thanks to the unflinching guidance of Brian De Palma, misdemeanors dont get much dirtier than what goes down here.
Aaron Eckhart plays Leland "Lee" Blanchard and Josh Hartnett is Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, two L.A. detectives and former boxing rivals assigned to the murder case of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner). The striving actress was found cut in half, drained of blood at a separate location, disembowelled, bludgeoned and had her mouth slit on both sides giving her a disturbing smile. Good bet, you wont be seeing that on C.S.I.
The hothead Lee, having domestic issues with his girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson), backs off the investigation, leaving Bucky to shoulder much of the load himself, which takes the detective to Elizabeths favourite haunts. This leads him to Madeline Liscott (Hilary Swank), an oversexed vamp who dresses exactly like Betty and seems to know a little too much about the killing.
Shorts slaying remains unsolved to this day. With how twisty and complicated The Black Dahlia eventually becomes, its easy to see why. Ellroys book is primarily fictional, with the author putting his own "who" in whodunit. The result is a bit of a convoluted finale, but the ride there is so slick, if youre a fan of this genre, it will hardly matter.
With Eckharts anti-hero gumshoe game face on, Johansson and Swank glamming it up as 40s divas, the noir language intact and De Palmas keen eye (lets not forget, this is the man who gave us both Scarface and The Untouchables), The Black Dahlia proves that with enough style, substance isnt always a necessary requirement.