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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Josh Hartnett
Scarlett Johansson
Aaron Eckhart
Hilary Swank
Mia Kirshner.
Directors
Brian De Palma.
Screenwriters
James Ellroy
Josh Friedman.
Running Time
120 minutes

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The Black Dahlia
Brian De Palma tackles Ellroy's true-crime classic


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Plot
In 1947 the mutilated body of a young woman is found on waste ground. Two cops, both boxers, are assigned to the case but slowly both realise that their motives for solving the case are very different...


Review
The Black Dahlia
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Thousands of murders go unsolved; most are forgotten, why do some obsess us so? Google ‘Jack the Ripper’ and you get nearly 6 million results. Type in ‘the Black Dahlia’ and you get twice as many. Like the case of the Ripper — a longtime favourite of filmmakers and speculative novelists — the case has all the ingredients of an enduring mystery. As with the Ripper there’s a sense of the crime somehow crystallising a certain moment; the foggy London of Saucy Jack was on the cusp of modernity, at least in media terms, with news sheets reporting every ghastly detail to a guiltily entertained public.
 
As for Elizabeth Short, who would, though she would never know it, become known to generations as The Black Dahlia, her grisly murder in 1947 — she was found beaten, buggered and bisected — happened against the backgrounds of the golden age of cop movies and the Hollywoodland sign. With false leads, hoax confessions, leaked tidbits to a hungry press and allegations of corruption, the case had the air of a noir from the start.
 
And so to Brian De Palma’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia. De Palma has been toying with film noir as far back as Obsession and as recently as his criminally ignored Femme Fatale, though for most the obvious comparison will be Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential. But while L.A. Confidential was a straightforward period policier, typically for its director The Black Dahlia is something much more, and in an odd way much less. It’s sated in De Palma’s trademarks: there are films within films; a gimlet eye for the pornographically sleazy and elements of mistaken identity. And then there is the exuberant technical bravura. An extended crane shot manages to bolt a spectacular gunfight to the murder itself, mischievously hiding it in the background; there’s a stunning fall through a spiral staircase that manages to reference both his beloved Hitchcock and, cheekily, his own Scarface.
 
And his casting is right on the nose. Josh Hartnett is startlingly effective as the bewildered, fundamentally decent detective, a man so stolidly gumshoe that he puts his hat back on immediately after sex. Aaron Eckhart fulminates as his bitter, secretive partner while Scarlett Johansson is transformed into a rouge-lipped femme fatale while long-time collaborator Dante Ferretti and veteran lenser Vilmos Szigmond create a lush, moody atmosphere that seems to locate the film permanently on the verge of dream; everyone smokes furiously bathing the movie in a kind of golden fug.
 
But along with De Palma’s undoubted strengths come the familiar problems: like the little boy pulling apart a spider to see how it works there’s a coldness, an emotional immaturity. De Palma is interested not a jot in the feelings of his characters, and thus the denouement which, in a way appropriate for noir, verges on the loopy, is frigid and unsatisfying. It’s par for the course for the director, but here it’s a flaw thrown into sharp relief by the reality of the subject matter. Perhaps we should try to disentangle poor Elizabeth Short from the fiction and recall that that at the centre of this maelstrom of technical artistry, armchair speculation and noirish atmos, there’s the ruined body of a young woman who, 59 years ago, met someone, or something, that surely no-one deserves to.


Verdict
Gorgeously realised, gripping and doused in De Palma’s familiar technical wizardry, this is only let down by the director’s equally familiar uninterest in the humanity of his characters.


Reviewed by Adam Smith

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Black Dahlia
Empire Star Rating

Great to look at....but that`s all you can say.

I have been a big fan of Brian De Palma since my early teens and i have to say that this is one of his films that could have been a million times better than what it was. Yes the cast is wonderful(Scarlett Johansson,Josh Hartnett,Aaron Eckhart,Hilary Swank etc)and it is,like many of De Palma`s films,technically fantastic(well he did have the likes of Vilmos Zsigmond and Mark Isham at his disposal)but the film for me is ruined by it`s raher ropey screenplay and De Palma`s lack of feeling for t... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by stephen35 at 10:30, 02 January 2013 | Report This Post


The Black Dahlia Review

Though this ambitious noir crime-drama captures the atmosphere of its era, it suffers from subpar performances, a convoluted story, and the inevitable comparisons to other, more successful films of its genre. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 10:46, 22 January 2012 | Report This Post


The Black Dahlia Review

Though this ambitious noir crime-drama captures the atmosphere of its era, it suffers from subpar performances, a convoluted story, and the inevitable comparisons to other, more successful films of its genre. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 10:46, 22 January 2012 | Report This Post


terrible acting

Looks great, still quite good fun, but all the actors are terrible! the film only seems to get going after the stairwell scene. The end is loopy fun. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 17:19, 21 May 2011 | Report This Post


The Black Dahlia.

I don't care what else says. I think it is a great, gripping and dark movie. Really good. I mean, no Scarface, right? But it's pretty good. And read the book too, is really good, brutal and shocking. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 00:20, 22 April 2008 | Report This Post


Shocking review Empire...

I couldn't disagree with Empire more in that review. The film was a clumsy, uninteresting, poorly acted mess! Johanssen was truly awful in it. I could've easily turned the film off 10 mins from the end and not been intrigued or bothered by the outcome one bit. Apart from the usual visually stunning cinematography (that you always get from De Palma), this is a really bad film. Come on empire..3 stars...REALLY!? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by discodave101 at 08:46, 20 August 2007 | Report This Post


Shockingly Awful

Ellroy's The Black Dahlia is my favorite crime novel of all time, and could have made a great film, but DePalma botched it big time. First, it can't decide if it wants to be a hard boiled detective thriller, or an over-the-top melodrama. The Hitchcock wannabe stylistics are obvious and distracting. Johanson and Swank turn in absolutely awful performances (what was that voice, Hilary). Hartnett is miscast, and the script is disjointed and unfocused. A real shame, this could have been so good. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr. Benway at 02:30, 01 July 2007 | Report This Post


Overated...

PIFFLE! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JokerJr at 18:13, 31 May 2007 | Report This Post


Disappointing

I'm a big fan of De Palma and thought Femme Fatale was very underrated, but this was just slack-paced and the murder investigation was almost an afterthought compared to Josh Hartnett's character moping around a lot. Some nice shots, but seems to go on forever and lacks any real emotional connection to what must have been a genuine tragedy in 1947. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Caster at 00:00, 02 May 2007 | Report This Post


... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lise at 22:03, 25 March 2007 | Report This Post


Boredom=

Jesssh, after the first twenty minutes I was almost asleep, the pace of the film was all wrong - it plodded and by then the audience was lost. A real waste of pretty decent cast. As the missus said -"two words, absolute pish' That about sums it up. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Inspector 71 at 22:46, 08 March 2007 | Report This Post


Yawn

Overly complicated, uninspiring and ultimately unconvincing. Most of the characters were one-dimensional. SJ was given little to do and the film managed to portray her as boring and dowdy. As if! Hilary Swank was fantastically sexy, but a far lesser actress could easily have played her character. As for the unlikely connection of evidence, hints and memories towards the end.......please. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Hillsman at 13:22, 05 February 2007 | Report This Post


The Black Dahlia

Decent, but nothing more. What should be made much more simple was made so complicated. A few good scenes but is something very over the top. What was claimed to be an unsolved murder is actually tecnacally solved. Brutal and sex driven confusion. The gritty violence is great and it will entertain. However it just dosent quite make it to LA Confidential. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by solid snake at 20:49, 03 December 2006 | Report This Post


RE:

What WERE they thinking? Last thing I expected going into this film was that they would tackle it from a camp perspective. (Fiona Shaw and Hilary Swank, I mean you.) Instead of being a convoluted thriller, it turned into a disjointed botch. It didn't produce thrills but giggles.   Wildly inappropriate and one of the leading candidates for worst film of the year. ... More

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Posted by RJNeb2 at 15:56, 17 October 2006 | Report This Post


great story but why waste on such a talentless cast (apart from swank, and johanson gets away with pouting those lips) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mike22 at 13:22, 11 October 2006 | Report This Post


the Black Dahlia

if Brian De Palma had put as much effort into the plot and characters of this film, as he did into the immaculate look, it would have been so much better. a promising start quickly unravels into a dreadful mess. definately a distant relation to the classic LA Confidential. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 15:37, 30 September 2006 | Report This Post


The Black Dahlia

VERY UNDERRATED!!! The first twenty minutes of this film was a bit boring and slow, but once it gets going it is fantastic. The ending scared me to death when Elizabeth Short was on the front garden of Johansson's house. If you like murder mysteries, watch this! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JACK M14 at 18:26, 28 September 2006 | Report This Post


Boring and flawed

This movie has many problems and has to be one of the worst ive seen for a while. Every one of Palmas films have problems for me and that is tack, pure tackyness just look at Scareface and Carlitos Way (Made great by Pacino) but the films are very tacky and the hugely overated Untouchables. This film has to be the worst! It far to complex and is structured badly, the characters are unloveable, it overplays and it really is very boring. I can never bring myself to watch a Palma movie again. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jpmwright at 21:26, 27 September 2006 | Report This Post


The Black Dahlia

Coming on the coat tails of the Ellroy LA Confidential adaptation, The Black Dahlia had a hard act to follow. I had read the book a few years before and knew this was a complex narrative with equally complex characters. De Palma attempted to unravel these complexities for the big screen but unfortunately unraveled the performance of the key players somewhere in the process. How DePalma managed to coax such a flawed performance from a twice Oscar winning actress like Hilary Swank and is quite a t... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Bluehair at 19:21, 24 September 2006 | Report This Post


The Black Dahlia

Once again,after the hugely underrated Femme Fatale,Brian de Palma makes a film that few critics seem to understand. They seem to have expected another L.A.Confidential. Maybe that film is better,but De Palma's is more ambitious and interesting. Apart from a little bit of the expected sex and violence,it's a defiantly old fashioned film,right down to Mark Isham's emphatic score. The often melodramatic acting and dialogue is actually totally appropriate to what the director was going for-well,ap... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 18:49, 20 September 2006 | Report This Post


RE: The Black Dahlia

L: iainthekid Overall, I thought this was an good attempt at adapting Ellroy.  Having read the book and knowing how complex and violent it is, I didn't have high hopes that the film would do it justice, and to be fair it doesn't, but it has a good stab at it. sp; The book wasn't that complex though. When you compare it to LA Confidential, which had about 5 different conspiracies, each as complex as the other, involving over 100 characters, all somehow linked to the Nite-ow... More

Posted by Axel Foley at 17:13, 20 September 2006 | Report This Post


The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia will inevitably suffer from comparisons with Curtis Hanson's adaptation of Ellroy's LA Confidential and it undoubtedly does not match up in terms of developed and interesting characters or a plot that holds your interest to the end. Frankly, the final third is a little baffling and the denouement just a bit silly. However, that is not to say that the Black Dahlia doesn't have much to recommend it on its own terms. The characters may be noir charicatures but the cast, with the ex... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by monkeyfish at 16:34, 20 September 2006 | Report This Post


the black dahlia marks brian de palmas return to the big screenand his trademark visual virtousity is here if only we could say the same for the plot and tne acting. compared to la confidential this is a great dissapointment joss hartnett is to young for the part aron eckhart and he should have changed parts he would have bought more rough masculinity to the part which was sorely needed scarlet tries her best but again is a lig... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by quizkid at 12:11, 20 September 2006 | Report This Post


RE: The Black Dahlia

Overall, I thought this was an good attempt at adapting Ellroy.  Having read the book and knowing how complex and violent it is, I didn't have high hopes that the film would do it justice, and to be fair it doesn't, but it has a good stab at it.   De Palma directs with his usual technical flair and the film looks superb.  It seems churlish of other reviews here to criticise De Palma's style - what did they expect from a De Palma film?  In the modern Hollywood days o... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by iainthekid at 11:21, 20 September 2006 | Report This Post


RE: The Black Dahlia

It was ok.  First hour was grand but I felt it came apart in the second half due to cramming too much of the book in.  7/10.  Should have been great. ... More

Posted by simonmckergan1 at 10:11, 20 September 2006 | Report This Post


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