Saturday, September 16, 2006

De Palma's Dahlia DOA

"The Black Dahlia" (dir. Brian De Palma, 2006, US, 121 mins.) Such an odd career is Mr. De Palma's. He has created some of my FAVORITE films ("Carrie" "The Untouchables") and some of my LEAST favored films ("Casualties of War" "Bonfire of the Vanities"). Unlike fellow lensemen Paul Verhoeven or Ken Russell, whose worst work is always captivating in their outrageousness, De Palma can actually be DULL. With only a couple of exceptions, "The Black Dahlia" is dull. Deathly dull at points. Though it is beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti, and ably costumed by Jenny Beaven, it is photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond, whose previous work with De Palma includes "Bonfire..." and "Obsession". I would speculate that the two of them should avoid each other in the future, as "Dahlia" lacks that cinematic POP that De Palma can display.

Next, the screenplay by Josh Friedman. I can't speak to the adaptation of the book, since I have not read it, however, what I was expecting was a murder mystery and not a love triangle involving the two officers and a wife. Perhaps that is a subplot in the book, however 'we' are here to see a De Palma murder mystery. And considering his history of near misogynistic violence (just name ANY of his films) and his crowning achievement, "The Untouchables", I was expecting to see the murder itself and not just a passing glance at the results. Also, the 'film noir' aspect was completely missing. I do not know whether that was a fault of the script as much as the casting.

Josh Hartnett... His character is expected to carry this film. And though he showed some potential in his small roll in "Sin City", here he is just too contemporary and not deep enough, or at least unable to tap into that dark place that exists in any character involved in noir-ish spectacles. There must be a reason for him to be drawn to the situation and that is usually realized in a final catharsis. His 'catharsis' played out like a lovelorn teenager. Especially in comparison to the surrounding cast.

Aaron Eckhart is hot. And butch. And a GOOD actor who can play 'damaged'. His obsession with the murder would have made a much more interesting story, however, in this script he is just the foil in the triangle between Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson, who plays Echart's wife. Johansson is a bit young for the role, but she does deliver a world weary performance.

The real standouts are Hilary Swank's performance as Madeline Prescott, whose role in the film is way too complicated to briefly describe without giving away spoilers. However, it is an Oscar worthy turn! Her vocal work is superb! Then there is Fiona Shaw, playing her mother. I don't know exactly what it says for her performance or the film itself to say that Shaw is able to steal the ENTIRE FILM with just a sip of a martini! At first I thought she might be doing her 'Medea-schtick' but the woman takes the role to nearly "Baby Jane Hudson" levels! She and Swank are hysterical, but in a 'Thank god SOMEBODY knows what they're doing there!' way.

The next biggest laugh I, JimmyD and a half the audience had was the BIG MOMENT between Hartnett and Johannson, which was completely unintentional. At least it broke the monotony that this overly long 121 minutes maintained. Oh, and there are a couple of scenes with Mia Kirshner as 'The Black Dahlia', however she is unfortunately only a subplot, it seems.

(A shout-out to Chad: I liked the extras! hee hee)


Maxxxxx said...

"Is it BEDTIME?!"

JimmyD said...

You should go ahead and write about the laugh-inducing scene. It's not like it'll ruin the 'mystery'.