Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Black Dahlia (2006)

It’s a murder mystery that has plagued Hollywood since 1947, and countless books and television series have explored the brutal and mysterious death of Elizabeth Short, known as The Black Dahlia. Is there anything new to say? Well director Brian De Palma must have thought so. He took James Ellroy’s novel and brought it to the screen.

Bucky (Josh Hartnett) and Lee (Aaron Eckhart) are two ambitious cops who have different approaches to enforcing the law. Lee is much more aggressive, going for the throat. Bucky is more willing to let things unfold, to make sure they are catching the right criminal. But all that gets turned on its head when they are put in charge of finding the killer of Elizabeth Short (Mia Krishner).

Soon, the dead girl becomes an obsession for both cops and leads them down very different but destructive paths. Lee’s girlfriend Kay (Scarlett Johansson) is afraid for both men. And Bucky gets entangled with the sultry and unstable Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank). It becomes very obvious that anyone involved in the case of The Black Dahlia is going to end up with a touch of madness.

Good Points:
  • Some great style to the filming and production
  • Wonderful noir score by Mark Isham
  • Not afraid to get seedy and dark
Bad Points:
  • Wow is Josh Hartnett miscast
  • Should be called “Bucky’s Screwed Up Life”
  • Extremely disjointed
The focus of the film is on Bucky and his life as a cop. Yes the Black Dahlia case plays into this and provides the climax (with a solution for this unsolved case), but the bulk of the film is watching him self-destruct. Not a bad thing, if the actor had been up to the task. But Josh Harnett never connects with the viewer. Combined with a severely edited final product and De Palma’s very stylized vision the end result is a bit of a mess. Noir fans may find something to like, but mostly it’s a misfire.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 4
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 2
Total: 2

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


  1. Definitely agree with all your points. Hartnett was mis-cast and the movie just tried too hard.

  2. Yeah, in theory this should have worked. All the elements seemed to be in place, and maybe with a longer cut ... nah, Hartnett just wasn't the right fit for this role.

  3. The 40s, the Black Dahlia, and Scarlett Johansson -- and it still went wrong? Thanks for the warning.