Brian De Palma has often made very interesting movies whether or not they do well at the box office. I thoroughly enjoyed his last movie Femme Fatale and thought it delivered a thrilling story, the right amount of sex appeal as well as De Palma’s trademark visual flair. It was with high expectations that I went to see his latest production The Black Dahlia.
Adapted from James Ellroy’s bestselling novel (which in turn used the real life murder of Elizabeth Short as a premise for his fiction), The Black Dahlia turned out to be a big disappointment. The characters in the film ought to be rough characters, all with unspeakable pasts and skeletons in the closet. The casting of Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnet is the single biggest reason the movie never flies – they simply fail to provide the characters with the moral ambiguity or depth required to make us interested enough to get drawn into the drama. One only needs to compare Josh Hartnett’s performance here to Russell Crowe’ turn in L.A. Confidential to see how unconvincing Hartnett is in the role.
Normally in a De Palma movie – and this is generally true even for his lesser films – the always imaginative camera work and tight editing keeps me on my seat. But in this movie, unfortunately, De Palma seems unusually subdued. Except for the craning shot that reveals the body of Elizabeth Short, there is little of his over-the-top style.
Inevitable, The Black Dahlia will be compared to the other Ellroy movie – L.A. Confidential. That movie managed to draw highly positive reviews with a largely unknown core cast (Guy Pierce and Russell Crowe) bolstered by stars like Kevin Spacey, Danny De Vito and Kim Basinger. For me, L.A. Confidential made me care about the two main characters more than most films manage these days. I doubt The Black Dahlia will ever become a critics darling or a fan favourite.
Verdict : thought I’d never say this, but a boring and ultimately unsatisfying De Palma thriller. Go see L.A. Confidential instead.