The Black Dahlia (Brian De Palma). 121 minutes. Opens Friday (September 15). For venues and times, see this page. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
I need to justify that rating. Brian De Palma 's film of James Ellroy 's The Black Dahlia , a fictional exploration of the most famous unsolved murder in L.A. history, isn't exactly satisfying as drama.
At least two of the four leads are miscast and can't quite bring off the stylized film noir acting they seem to be going for. Things that work on the page come off just a bit too overheated on the screen.
Whatever the dramatic problems in De Palma's films, however, they're almost always interesting technically. So my recommendation is for people interested in filmmaking.
Since the L.A. of the 1940s no longer exists, De Palma took his cast to Bulgaria, and the film was shot on a variety of actual and digital sets. The interplay of real and unreal, often in the same shot, makes the film worth seeing. It's very subtle, because De Palma is also playing with film stock and grain, so you're never quite sure what you're looking at.
The film's themes arise from Ellroy's novel, which is about illusion, false fronts and what people hide from each other. De Palma's techniques communicate these themes more successfully than his narrative does.
Josh "Balsa" Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart play LAPD detectives who have a degree of celebrity and are assigned to find the killer of Elizabeth Short ( Mia Kirshner ), an aspiring starlet and party girl who was found in a vacant lot, her body cut in half and a number of her organs missing. This leads them, as murders in Ellroy's novels invariably do, into the heart of L.A.'s power structure.
The good performances are by Scarlett Johansson , though that may just be the exquisite way she's lit, and Kirshner, who projects a lot of need. The stars of The Black Dahlia, though, are cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and the post-production team.