The Black Dahlia
directed by Brian De Palma
(Universal, 2006)

Rarely indeed do so many movie stars (and an acclaimed director) come together to make a movie as atrociously bad as The Black Dahlia. As if Elizabeth Short didn't suffer enough in life and death, now Hollywood comes along and exploits her memory as a hook to draw viewers in to a laughably awful film that, on its own, doesn't even have a single leg to stand on. The film tries to project itself as some kind of modern-day film noir -- it fails miserably.

I always thought Scarlett Johansson was a talented actress, but seeing her really weak performance in this putrid film on the heels of her deer-in-the-headlights acting in A Good Woman, I'm definitely rethinking that opinion. One thing is for sure: Johansson does not do well in films set in pre-modern times and places. Then you have the team of Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett, Fire and Ice as they're labeled in the story: the fiery Eckhart throwing crazy fits one after the other while Hartnett struggles to let any hint of emotion (or life) make it past his wooden facade -- especially during his big romantic scene with Johansson (it may well be the most unromantic romantic scene I've ever seen). Hillary Swank, to her credit, wasn't bad at all in her role, but unfortunately for her that role was wrapped up so tightly in the film's ludicrous plot that her performance is tainted by association. As for Fiona Shaw, I certainly wouldn't want to be the one trying to pick up the pieces of her career after her climactic speech toward the end -- that scene sets the young 21st-century standard for laughably ridiculous, deeply embarrassing acting.

Thank the cinematic gods for the always-alluring and charismatic Mia Kirshner, though, as she is the only thing this movie has going for it. Playing the role of the ill-fated Short, we only get to see her in screen tests and part of a stag film, but she is mesmerizing.

I'm not even going to talk about the plot because it's just hopelessly convoluted and patently ridiculous. Apparently realizing the whole premise of the story made no sense, the writers kept adding dead ends, stairs to nowhere and further oddities in the same vein as Sarah Winchester continuing construction on the Winchester Mystery House. You try to stay with the story for the first hour or so, but by the 90-minute mark I gave up completely. It was like different writers just kept throwing their own scenes in to the mix, with no knowledge of what happened before or after those moments.

Finally, I couldn't help but notice how unusually small all of the end credits were. I guess about everyone connected to this film knew how bad the movie was and didn't want their names associated with it. I know I wouldn't.

review by
Daniel Jolley

25 August 2007

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