The Black Dahlia (2006)
Germany / English
"Inspired by the most notorious unsolved murder in California history.
"An adaptation of James Ellroy's novel about two 1940s L.A. cops who head up the hunt for the killer of starlet Elizabeth Short.
Anybody expecting to get a great account of the Black Dahlia case, even
fictional, will be disappointed going in to this movie. Of course, I
knew that it was a fictionalization of the case, but I had no idea the
movie would present its own evidence and draw its own conclusions.
But the main problem here is not the lack of factual detail, so much as
the confusion of plot that surrounds and overwhelms the Black Dahlia
case itself. So much plot and character and sideplots and backstory are
built around the central characters that the case itself seems like a
distraction. A key plot point and character motivator is the
fascination of the two detectives with the murder, but this is never
elaborated enough in the film, and we're left to half-heartedly guess
at the character motivations.
The tone is never consistently campy, but when the camp arrives it
overwhelms the story. A dinner scene between a suspect and her family
had the crowd in stitches (the only scene during which the audience
laughed). The problem is that the scene is valuable to the plot and
should never have been played for laughs. Hitchcock or even Lynch could
have shot the same scene, with the same events and dialogue, and made
it menacing and creepy, which it needed to be to function in the
Other problems: De Palma uses the lesbian angle of the movie (never a
part of the case) to full exploitative advantage, and the actresses
seem unable to master to the expressive 1940s style acting that would
have come naturally to even a marginal 40s star.
Although the film brings a clearcut finale rather than a vague puzzle,
too many loose threads come together too neatly and rather than
bringing the film to a satisfactory conclusion, it leaves you
scratching your head, is this what I spent the last 2 hours waiting to
hear? Overall, there is too much plot, too little character development
and a wildly uneven tone. The movie has its moments but it's a blinding
mess all together.
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