The Black Dahlia
is a crime noir with more meat on its bones than might be palatable for those who havent read James Ellroys bestselling book. Unless youre familiar with the source material, following the intricacies of the Black Dahlia
plot can be a frustrating experience and one that all but requires a detailed set of notes in order to keep up with the key players.
Another potential strike against the film is that anyone who hasnt read Ellroys book might go into The Black Dahlia
anticipating a straight-forward murder mystery. While The Black Dahlia
definitely involves both murder and mystery, the films not strictly a whodunit. What The Black Dahlia
is a relationship drama, something not readily apparent from the trailer and a fact which might disappoint those expecting a CSI
-style crime story.
This examination of the seedy underbelly of Hollywood in the 1940s puts less emphasis on the actual murder of The Black Dahlia and the search for the killer than it does on the intersecting relationships of those who knew her in life and the men assigned to solve her grisly murder.
Josh Hartnett and Hilary Swank in The Black Dahlia.© Universal Pictures
The discovery of slain actress Elizabeth Shorts body on January 15, 1947 serves only as the backdrop to The Black Dahlia
s central story of two Los Angeles Police Officers known in the media as Mr Fire and Mr Ice. As their boxing nicknames imply, the two have diametrically opposed styles and personalities. Mr Fire is Officer Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart
), a fast-talking, action-oriented man who loves the limelight. Mr Ice is Dwight Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett
), a cop who avoids confrontations unless hes forced into action. More of an introvert, its only after partnering up with Lee that Bucky becomes a player to be reckoned with within the police department.
The partners spend their daytime hours working high profile cases while their evenings are spent palling around with Lees live-in love, Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). Lee rescued Kay from a thug who liked to carve his initials in his women (before sharing them with his buddies), but it soon becomes apparent its Bucky and Kay who should be together.
Before that can of worms can be opened, Mr Fire and Mr Ice are assigned to work on whats sure to be one of the biggest cases in Hollywoods history. Struggling actress Elizabeth Shorts dead body is found dumped in a vacant lot, body cut in two with the internal organs missing from her lower half. Even worse, her mouth has been carved into a garish smile that stretches from ear to ear.
The case, dubbed The Black Dahlia murder because of the victims penchant for dressing all in black, soon becomes an obsession of Lees as he equates Shorts murder with that of his younger sisters. As the case eats at him, Lees behavior deteriorates he pops pills and bounces off the wall and basically becomes useless which means Buckys left to work the case without his partner. Following up on a potential lead, Bucky checks out lesbian hangouts and runs into Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank), the daughter of one of LAs wealthiest citizens. Madeleines not only a dead ringer for the murdered woman but also someone who knows more about the Black Dahlia case than she first lets on.
De Palma does a fantastic job of recreating Hollywood from the 40s and does justice to Ellroys work in a way that perhaps no other filmmaker could have accomplished. De Palma's signature touches are all present, yet he never adds elements just to make the film more his own. This is Ellroys story brought to life, with only a couple of added scenes to pad out specific characters or make the film adaptation more visually appealing.
Condensing Ellroys novel had to have been a tough task for screenwriter Josh Friedman but, for the most part, he pulls it off. Its only in the films final act that Friedmans screenplay fails to live up to Ellroys work. Some red herrings arent addressed and some plotlines are left dangling, while others are tied up too neatly.
Continued on Page 2: The Acting and the Bottom Line