We’ll start with the bad and ugly. Do not waste your time and money with The Black Dahlia! While the earlier film adaptaiton of a James Ellroy novel, L.A. Confidential, was excellent, this adaptation is a complete mess. Written by Josh Friedman–responsible for the “coulda been worse” War of the Worlds and the Keanu Reeves dreckfest Chain Reaction–and directed by Brian De Palma–who used to be good–Black Dahlia is a complete mess. I have not read Ellroy’s novel upon which the film was based, so I don’t know if he is to blame for the unnecessarily convoluted storyline, the meandering subplots, laughable characters, and criminal slander against titular murder victim Elizabeth Short. The gratuitiously gimmicky camera work and over-the-top buckets of blood, however, are all De Palma’s.
The Black Dahlia herself has very little to do with the movie, other than having her name stolen for the title. Yes, the historical event of her murder is in the film, but the body is shown only briefly and then she is forgotten, with the exception of several excerpts from a totally fictionalized lesbian porn film. The actual person of Elizabeth Short is made out to be a bisexual prostitute–for which zero evidence exists–and whatever family she has left should sue the studio for defamation of character.
The murder is nothing more than a plot device. The real story involves a complicated love triangle between two cops and their girl. For their part, Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, and Scarlett Johansson are all pretty good. The costumes and set design are perfect. The rest of the movie is bad, bad, bad. We won’t even speak of Hillary Swank.
Once upon a time, Brian De Palma gave us classics such as Scarface, Wise Guys, and The Untouchables. Then he was apparently abducted by the same aliens who abducted John Hughes and had his brains scrambled and sucked out his nose through a crazy-straw, after which he made Snake Eyes and Mission to Mars.
Everyone associated with this movie should be forced to spend the rest of their careers working on nothing but “Mary Kate and Ashley” videos. Maybe that would be a good thing, because then the Olson twins would be bank-robbing lesbians who shoot heroin and take their clothes off for no reason.
Possibly the most unnoticed and underappreciated film that’s out right now is The Illusionist. In the era of movies which sacrifice story for special effects, here is the rare case of a movie which is all story and merely supported by special effects. Edward Norton–reminding us as he did in American History X that goatees can look good–plays Eisenheim, a magician in 19th-century Vienna whose love for childhood friend–who happens to be a Duchess–causes him much political grief with the Crown Prince, who the Duchess is engaged to. To say more would be to give away too much, for this is one of those movies which reveals its plot a little at a time, never frustrating you with vagueness and never leaving you sure whether you know what’s going to happen. To be sure, much of the film is complete fantasy, but it is done in such a way which allows a comfortable suspension of disbelief. Norton is charming and mysterious, Jessica Beil is finally in her element as more than just a pretty face, Rufus Sewell is perfectly dastardly, and Paul Giamatti is completely convincing as the everyman Chief Inspector who is caught between just trying to do his job and being manipulated by a higher authority.
The cinematography is beautiful and dreamy, and the story is charming and original. It would really be a shame to let this one disappear on you.