Ouch. What a mess of a film. When I first heard that James Elroy’s novel The Black Dahlia was being made into a feature film directed by Brian De Palma, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I hadn’t read the book, and knew little about the actual Black Dahlia murder case. As time passed, I more or less forgot about it, until the trailer was released earlier this summer. It was an odd sort of trailer, but it piqued my interest. Visually it looked slick, and i had been informed that Brian De Palma was using composer Mark Isham to write the score. Isham is a Grammy-winning trumpet player, and I figured his approach to this period piece would be a noir infused score.
A few weeks ago I did a “First Listen” exclusive for the album release of The Black Dahlia on SoundtrackNet. It’s a great score, but I hadn’t seen the film so I didn’t know how it worked in the film. Until now.
De Palma’s film is nothing short of a train wreck. It’s a beautifully shot (by Oscar-winner Vilmos Zsigmond) work that is pulled down by lousy acting and a muddled script. Josh Hartnett plays Officer “Bucky” Bleichert, an policeman who is partnered up with Sgt. Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), trying to find a pedophile murderer. Things shift rather dramatically though, after a bust goes bad – and the severed body of Elisabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) is found nearby (unrelated). Things get more convoluted as the mystery of who killed “The Black Dahlia” slowly unfolds, and a tale of corruption, revenge, and wrong-place, wrong-time comes to light. There are so many far-fetched moments that I won’t bother to list them here. I will just say that even though it wasn’t a “confusing” film, per se, it was certainly hard to follow. Adding to the confusion was the use of voiceover narration – except that Hartnett mumbles half the time. Sheesh.
As I had mentioned previously, it was very nicely shot though. Zsigmond’s use of lighting is soft and dark, appropriately creating a noir feeling. Isham’s score feels a bit forced in the film, though, and while it’s an excellent soundtrack listen, it doesn’t work as well in the film. De Palma hasn’t made a good film since Mission: Impossible ten years ago, and even people have a problem with that film. Since then, he’s made some real stinkers, even if Mission to Mars allowed Tim Robbins an on-screen death, and Femme Fatale gave us a very hot lesbian scene with Rebecca Romijn. Hollywood will have to wait a little longer for the triumphant return of the man who gave us Scarface and The Untouchables. But at least you can see Mia Kirshner in yet another lesbian role. Talk about being pigeon-holed. Wait for DVD, if then.