| The Red Right Hand
THE BLACK DAHLIA
Brian De Palma
Obsessed with the 'black dahlia' case of 1947, James Ellroy wrote a fictional explanation for her death - to date the murder remains unsolved. I'm a sucker for noir, so from the opening whines of the classic score I was hooked - Mark Isham, you are a genius. Fortunately, I had the immense honour and privilege (*cough* suck up *cough*) of briefly interviewing* the cast, I won't convey what was said between us - despite that being the purpose of the whole meeting - other than they were exceedingly pleasant people who were clearly passionate about this project and the resurrection of the noir genre. De Palma has clearly produced a nostalgic homage to a somewhat dead genre, avoiding as many modern methods as possible. The style, atmosphere, look and score are the true highlights of this feature, rich and lush; which is probably one of the largest problems. This is one of the most beautiful films I have seen this year (I'm not kidding, I was close to wetting myself with glee) and considering it was filmed in Belgium, the look of post-war Los Angeles is spot on. Unlike 1997's LA Confidential, The Black Dahlia is not only different in style and substance but also content. Lacking momentum, feeling fairly shunted, often stopping and starting then ending with a mass amount of overwhelming information and a very classic finale that will frustrate and annoy mainstream audiences.
World War II is over, 62 million dead. It's a wonder that anyone would notice or care about a 22 year old, unknown budding actress from Massachusetts. The real reason isn't human nature or compassion, nor that she was young and the murder so senseless; it was the way Elizabeth Short was discovered. Her body was cut in two, disembowelled, drained of blood, bruised and a gruesome smile carved ear to ear. Swept into the public eye too quickly for his liking, we follow the story from Bucky's perspective, opening on a charity prize fight between two cops (Lee Blanchard [Eckhart] and Dwight 'Bucky' Bleichert [Hartnett] ) dubbed Fire & Ice. While staking out a separate collar, our newly-formed partners stumble across the scene of the crime and become entranced with the case. As large a part of the story as she is, the dahlia herself is more of a parallel plot device for the three-way love triangle developing between the two cops and the platinum-haired dame to kill for, Kay Lake [Johansson]. As Blanchard becomes more and more obsessed with the dahlia case, the stress begins to show and he eventually moves out to create a Dahlia House Of Horrors, pinning stolen medical files and statements to the walls.
As Bucky chases a few leads he strolls into a lesbian burlesque club, asking questions before locking eyes with a dahlia-wannabe. Turns out her name is Madeleine Linscott [Swank], heir to a construction tycoon's empire and one of the last people to see Ms. Short alive; naturally, she knows more than she is willing to let on to. This gives De Palma a chance to explore a brief comedic side of the plot, as we are treated to a humorous drunken family dinner party. At first, the Linscott's relevance to the story seems loose but as the plot thickens everyone becomes woven to the case - such are the basic law of noir. Personally, I love this flick, it's deep, dark, edgy, smoky, sexy and more stylish than a prize winning Christmas plum (if such a thing even exists). I am, however, probably alone on that. This is one of the most expensive independent films ever made - due to De Palma detaching himself from Hollywood - and as such will no doubt put off many punters; on top of that the plot will confuse and the classic fades and swipes will seem dated and corny. The acting is well delivered by all, with a fair amount of interesting cameos but the two main attractions aren't the leads. Swank and Eckhart play in a league of their own but we're forced to endure Hartnett's above-average performance and Johansson's typecast role - Stand around, look beautiful, say something sassy, get pissed off at guy friend, have steamy sex.... but she said my girlfriend is pretty, so it doesn't matter. The whole film plays out with the flair and finesse that we have come
to expect from De Palma, littered with wide, swooping camera shots. This really is a director's film and due to the excessive visual stylings the plot seems to take a back seat - this is Dahlia's greatest flaw.
15th September 2006
The Scene To Look Out For:
This may piss a lot of people off but I really liked the ending. Not the denouement but the final shot. Kay stands in a doorway, as the teary-eyed Bucky turns away, casting his eyes out onto the lawn. His vision flashes and he sees Short's body lying in two, emblazoned into his memory. He closes his eyes and turns away. Kay looks deeply into his eyes and gently says, "Come inside." The door slides shut and a black screen with two letters appears: The End. It's such a perfectly 40's ending that although it will annoy the hell out of many punters, I was satisfied - and isn't that what really matters? No? Well it was worth a try.
I would like to say Swank's femme fatale but her accent was just far too irritating. Although the lead pretty-boy, Hartnett, did well in his role Eckhart is the one to watch. His character has depth and purpose, drive and emotion. As the story follows Bucky, things are revealed later but it would have been nice to trace Blanchard a little more.
"Who are these men who feed on others? What do they feel when they cut their names into other people's lives?"
In A Few Words:
"An extremely stylish, smoke-filled offering from De Palma reminiscent of Chinatown but tiny flaws amass to bring the whole effort down somewhat"
*(hence the pictures.. they just sent them to me, telling me they weren't on IMDB [oooh] and I should use them)