Sunday, March 25, 2007

Me Mini Movie Reviews: The Black Dahlia.

I’ve been looking forward to watching this one for a while. Wanted to see it last September, but didn’t make it to the theatre as usual. Finally rented and watched it the other night, and it was alright. It got absolutely trashed by critics and bombed at the box office, but I kind of liked it. It’s not the greatest movie ever made by a long, long shot, but it does have its merits. Not quite sure why it took such a lambasting.

It’s a film noir story set in post WWII Hollywood focusing on two cops, the girl in between, and a fictionalized take on the real life unsolved case of The Black Dahlia murder. It was never solved in real life, but creative license is used here to tell a tale of how the detective’s obsession with the case affects the lives of these three people and pulls dark secrets into the light of day. Aaron Eckert plays Lee Blanchard and Josh Hartnett plays Dwight “Bucky” Bleichart - two cops, who are drawn together by their boxing past and into the warrants division of the LAPD and subsequently become involved in the high profile murder case. Scarlett Johannson plays the dame in the middle of the two, which causes conflict to say the least. She’s got her own secrets as well. Then there’s Hilary Swank playing Madeline Linscott – the femme fatale of the picture who stirs things up with Bucky.

It’s all a bit convoluted as several parallel stories eventually converge to reveal the whole messy state of affairs. As they say in the bonus features of the DVD, it’s really a story of a mostly honorable man’s (Bucky) descent into hell. I would put it a different way. It’s pretty much a straight up noir until Hilary Swank’s character and her family hits the screen. There, they take a hard left turn at Albuquerque and head straight on over into Crazytown, with the mother – Ramona Linscott (played by Fiona Shaw) as the mayor. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little crazy – as Wash from Firefly once said “I’ve been sane for a while now, and change is good.” (Didn’t see a Firefly reference coming, did you? :-) Bucky tries to put it all together and there’s a moment or two near the end as the bizarre tale gets told that he has a “What the ?!” look on his face. From the reviews, some critics did too.

Maybe it was because I had low expectations, but I was actually surprised by Josh Hartnett in this. He showed a good noir turn in Sin City, and carries it over here. I thought he did pretty well as the more or less “moral” center of the movie playing a man in over his head. Aaron Eckert was excellent, and I can’t wait to see his turn as Two Face in the upcoming Batman sequel. Scarlett Johannson was her usual self, but at least she didn’t look half asleep this time around. Hilary Swank vamps it up as the femme fatale and seems to have fun with an oddball role. Mia Kirshner as the doomed Elizabeth Short (real life name of the murdered woman who became known as The Black Dahlia) gives probably the best performance of the lot in flashbacks showing her desperate descent as well. Of course, this is a Brian DePalma film, so you know it’s going to at least look good if nothing else. The period settings are impeccable (Love the cars), and there are some great camera shots. He misfires at the very end though, trying for an indelible image for the audience that just comes off as a ham fisted cheap scare shot. The rest of it looks good though.

On the whole, for a dark noir fan like me, it was an alright movie. Not the best, not the worst. There’s a lot going on, and you need to pay attention to keep track of the players. It could have been pulled together a bit tighter, and it does overplay the ending and takes too long getting to it, not to mention the crazy loon moments teeter on the edge of camp. However, there are some good noir moments and some really incredibly well done period visuals (considering they filmed in Bulgaria on a budget), so it’s a bit of a give and take on the good vs bad of the film. For a noir fan like me though, I’ll take it, as these types of cinematic movies aren’t exactly popular in the age of Wild Hogs and Norbit…

Verdict: This isn’t a movie for mainstream audiences. Recommended for hardcore fans of film noir.

Oh, and keep in mind, its rated R for a reason.

Comments on "Me Mini Movie Reviews: The Black Dahlia."


Anonymous Marina said ... (March 26, 2007 2:01 PM) : 

Great review. I didn't like it nearly this much, probably because I'm not a huge noir fan but I can relate on the Hartnett comment. He was much better than I had anticipated.


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (March 26, 2007 2:32 PM) : 

I like that Firefly quote! Gave me a good laugh.

I had seen this in the theatre, and your review pretty much sums up this movie. I guess I found the moral dilemmas the most interesting part of the story.

There was definitely an element of Crazytown though. Well put. :-)


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (March 26, 2007 5:57 PM) : 

Marina: Thanks. As for Hartnett, I hope he steers more towards these kinds of darker roles and away from the romcoms he was doing early. Surprisingly, he's got some talent in the right roles - especially the good guy in dark water kind of territory.


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (March 26, 2007 5:58 PM) : 

LRU: can always count on a good quote form Firefly for any situation :)
And you're right, Bucky's moral dilemmas are what probably saved the film from going into complete camp.


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