The Black Dahlia
- Kaleem Aftab
- 1 September 2006
The facts: on 15 January 1947, a 22-year-old fledgling East Coast actress called Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Short was discovered brutally murdered in downtown LA. The murder of the actress the press dubbed ‘the Black Dahlia’ (because of the black outfits she wore) remains unsolved, and that in Hollywood terms has the makings of legend, and more importantly, a potential money making movie. Better still, the problem of how to turn this fact into a story was solved by legendary crime writer James Ellroy (LA Confidential) in 1987 when he penned The Black Dahlia; a fictional investigation into the murder of Short as a way of exorcising the many demons he had from his own mother’s 1958 strangulation. It is this fictional account, replete with gruesome murders, mystery and doppelgangers that filmmaker Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables) has latched onto to make his best film since Carlito’s Way.
Told in classic cod film noir fashion with an unreliable narrator in detective ‘Bucky’ Bleichert (Josh Hartnett, whose previous turns in Scottish director Paul McGuigan’s Wicker Park and last year’s Lucky Number Slevin have in retrospect turned out to be his auditions to play the type of role that Humphrey Bogart made his own). Bleichert and his partner Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) are both ex-pugilists, and having bonded in the ring they set out to solve murder. Cue film noir staples ?" the devastatingly attractive and mysterious women, in the form of Blanchard’s girlfriend Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson) ?" the doppelganger for Short’s corpse (Mia Kirschner) and the rich daughter of a filmmaker, Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank).
Propped up by De Palma’s usual immaculate eye for period detail and feel for genuine suspense The Black Dahlia still manages to underline De Palma’s many lazy and flabby foibles as a director, while Josh Friedman’s adaptation of Ellroy’s source book is both perplexingly loose and alarmingly trite in the conclusion. A half-arsed solution to this enduring riddle.