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UPDATED! Even More BLACK DAHLIA Reviews Coming In!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

I’m always amazed when I mention De Palma and I see people rev up with the hate automatically in the talkbacks. Really? Some of you hate De Palma? SCARFACE? BLOW OUT? CASUALTIES OF WAR? THE UNTOUCHABLES? CARLITO’S WAY? SISTERS? CARRIE? BODY DOUBLE? This is the guy you hate? Seriously? I will remain puzzled by your illogical dislike of one of the great stylists of the ‘70s, and as I ponder why you are wrong, I give you... Manhammer!

I just got back from the The Black Dahlia screening, and I hate to break it to you Mori, but that "tease" review you got was total bullshit and clearly a plant. I'll keep this short because it breaks my heart to tear into a De Palma movie. The man has been responsible for some of my favorite screen moments and has more than a couple of movies on my all-time favorite list, and I so, so wanted this movie to be great. But sadly, The Black Dahlia is a total mess.

Let's start with the casting. Josh Hartnett shouldn't be paid to carry luggage, let alone a movie. I have no axe to grind with the guy and had no preconceived notions about him before going into this, but he is flat out terrible in it. Scarlett Johansson, who I think is a fine actress, also seemed to be in over head, playing a character that could have used the seasoning of an actress ten years her senior. Hillary Swank came this close to over-selling the "I'm in a noir film" vocal inflection , but managed to get through it relatively unscathed. Aaron Eckhart, who I have always enjoyed, does an admirable job with what he's given, which isn't much. If anything, he should have been given Hartnett's screen time.

Story and pacing. Having never read the book, I kept finding myself comparing The Black Dahlia to L.A. Confidential. Like L.A. Confidential, there were several seemingly unconnected plot threads in The Black Dahlia that ended up all tying together. Unlike L.A. Confidential, due to slow pacing and too many contrivances, The Black Dahlia holds almost no surprises and leaves the viewers scratching their heads more than once. The film had a tendency to meander around and get so far from various plot points, that once it gets back to them later in the film, the viewer has almost no recollection of any of the details.

On the positive side (I'm grasping at straws here), there were a few scenes featuring some nice camera work and classic De Palma flourishes. And story-wise, I think the film is salvageable; it would just need a shitload of really, really good editing. But alas, no matter how well it is edited, it will still sink under the weight of Hartnett's tedious and ponderous performance (don't get me started on his voice-over narration). To add insult to injury, the man himself, Brian De Palma was there. After filling out my comment card and exiting the theater, I saw him in the lobby talking with some studio executives. I couldn't even look him in the eye. Now I go to weep bitterly long into the night, repeating to myself over and over again, "Remember Carlito's Way, remember Carlito's Way."

Call me Rod Manhammer

Drop the “Rod.” It’s more impressive if you just put “MANHAMMER!” on your business cards. Anyway, I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like much about it. Sounds like casting is a key hang-up for people. Here’s another review that’s a little more positive...

Hey Moriarty,

Just got back from the Black Dahlia screening. Not sure if the one you posted was bogus, as we were repeatedly told we were the first test screening. Also, there was NO threeway between Hartnett, Eckhart and Scarlett. Yes, she is involved with them both, but you never really see her with Eckhart and her scene with Hartnett is standard "lets break all of our dishes and do it on the table" stuff.

So that's that.

Anyway the movie itself was much better than I expected, as De Palma hasn't made a good film in quite some time and with the exception of Eckhart, I generally dislike all of the leads. Hartnett does a much better job than he did in his OTHER 1940s movie, though still needs a bit of work on making facial expressions. Eckhart is great of course. Hilary Swank impressed me (both as an actress and as eye candy) for the first time with her femme fatale role, which she threw herself into and obviously enjoyed doing it. Great to see the stars of THE CORE doing so well. Scarlett is her usual boring "look at me, im pretty so I must be great!" self, and is barely even necessary in the story (a comment echoed by a few at the Q&A after the movie).

As for the story, without spoiling much, the Black Dahlia is really only a part of a giant puzzle (indeed, her body isn't even found until close to the one hour mark). I assume this is because the case itself is unsolved, and I am not sure how much of the rest is completely made up, or partially based on what happened, etc. All I know is, they did a great job mixing all these seemingly unrelated stories into an encompassing whole, without any glaring deus ex machinas to fill the gaps in.

I havent liked anything De Palma has done since Mission Impossible (a film which improved even more when the execrable sequel came along), so again, I wasn't expecting much, but this was a very nice surprise. Not too flashy either: the shot where the Dahlia's body is found is a swooping crane shot across 2 blocks, and there's a lot of split focus shots, but otherwise De Palma kept his showiness to a minimum and focused on the plot(s) instead. Also, his fans should be pleased with at least one thing: there IS a staircase scene to look forward to.

Judging by the comments after, if anything the movie needs to get to the Black Dahlia case quicker and perhaps make some things a little more clear. I didn't have a problem following it, but apparently I was in the minority, at least for the 26 of us they picked to stay after. The movie could be tightened in the first act, but otherwise, I'd say release as is (color timing and temp score excepted of course). Fans of LA Confidential or Devil In A Blue Dress should enjoy it, as should De Palma fans who have been underwhelmed with his last 3-4 movies.


I’m still curious as hell and holding out hope, but thanks for writing in guys. I appreciate it.

Looks like there are more reviews pouring in, and we’ll just keep adding them tonight as long as they do. Here’s one who really, really didn’t like the film:


I just got back from a screening of DePalma's newest, The Black Dahlia, here in LA and saw the review you posted. I feel compelled to write you and present the other side of the coin, the side which seemed to be the prevailing opinion of everyone sitting around me in the theater. This movie, while FAR from finished, is a disaster of tremendous proportions.

First off, I know nothing about the true story of the Black Dahlia nor have I read James Ellroy's novel. I had heard about the movie some time ago and knew basically what it was about, and, being a bit of a DePalma fan (love The Untouchables...but then again, who doesn't?) I REALLY wanted to like this movie.

I'm not going to give away any plot stuff, but suffice it to say that "Smarty" and I seemed to have watched two different movies. First of all, there is no "threeway shit" between Hartnett, Johansson and Eckhart. There's a bit of a love triangle going on, but there's nothing sexual between the three of them, and certainly nothing "erotic" or even remotely "kinky" (unless you call holding hands kinky). granted Hartnett gets a few good love scenes here, but they're nothing worth writing home about. And Swank...she's got a bizarre accent and her hair is awful and I would hardly call her voluptous. She's slinky at best.

Anyway, the movie suffers from a number of problems, too many to count. The first half hour or so was actually quite good, and then the body of the Dahlia is discovered and the movie quickly grinds to a deathly slow pace. It's full of supporting characters that have far moe screentime than they deserve, subplots that don't really pay off, and abrupt and complete 180 degree shifts in character for seemingly no particular reason. Swank doesn't show up until halfway through the movie (I had completely forgotten she was even in it by the time she arrived) and, unfortunately, DePalma's direction isn't really any kind of return to greatness. There are a number of bizarre and ridiculously self-indulgent choices strewn throughout the film. The most painful thing, without question, is that there are "clues" to the mystery strewn throughout the movie and everytime something significant happens, it's painfully obvious that it's going to be important later on. And yet, DePalma constantly reminds us of all these little "clues" through voiceover and visual flashbacks. At one point, there's a scene between Johansson and Hartnett and when the scene is over it cuts to Hartnett alone in a room and we hear a voiceover of the conversation that litterally took place 15 seconds ago. (I'm not embellishing at all here, and 15 seconds might even be generous.) So you've got two sort of plot arcs going on throughout the film, with "clues" for both and then in the last 10 minutes we get about five times more information than we've recieved in the last hour and 45 minutes. The two arcs are then strung together by a VERY tenous thread and the explanation for what happened comes almost totally out of left field. The score was also terrible, but they assured us that the titles and score were all temporary.

So what's good? Well, the production design is great. The sets, costumes, props...they all really help to provide the proper 1940s noir atmosphere. The dialogue is all pretty good and I feel like at one point there was probably a pretty good script involved. Most of the performances are actually very good. Hartnett and Eckhardt are excellent, (probably Hartnett's best work to date) and Mia Kirshner is AMAZING as Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia. We only really see her through a series of black and white "screen tests" but she's utterly fantastic. Scarlet Johansson is more than a little disappointing, although she isn't given too much to work with here. Hilary Swank also plays an extremely bizarre character who I never really liked, but then again I've never really been blown away by Hilary Swank to begin with. But nothing compares to the totally batshit crazy character played by Fiona Shaw. She...there are really no words. It has to be seen to be believed. One of my favorite characters actually ended up being the LAPD lieutenant played by Mike Starr (or, as everyone sitting around me referred to him when it came time to fill out the surveys, "The guy from Dumb And Dumber who has an ulcer"). He's got a smaller supporting role, but he really commits to it and turns in some fine, fine work, probably the best non-comedy work of his career.

Bottom Line? The movie is probably about 30 minutes too long and needs to be SERIOUSLY re-edited. The direction leaves a lot to be desired, although there are a number of really great performances here. Unfortunately, I feel like even after they make all the changes they need to make, the movie is still gonna fall short of it's potential. Make no mistake, this could have been truly, truly great, but my feeling is that without some serious reshoots, the movie is broke beyond repair.

Anyway, I know you're pretty excited about this one, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but like I said, I felt it was my duty to speak up. Keep up the great work and I'll let you know next time I catch an advanced screening for something worth talking about.


This is probably the most in-depth reaction that anyone sent us:


The teaser review that you posted on aintitcool was from a very obvious plant. There are no threesome scenes in this film and the film that this person describes is not this film.

A LOT OF SPOILERS (with commentary)

The film begins with Bucky, played by Josh Harnett who gives one of the most delicate portraits of a man in turmoil that I have seen on screen since Viggo M. in History Of Violence, weeping before a fight. We must assume that the entire film takes place in his memory, which takes some of the suspense out of the film, in terms of his survival. The beginning picks up from the Zoot Suit Riots where Bucky and Lee, played by a very energetically believeable Aaron Eckhart, first meet. Lee is a fire, a political animal whom is popular in the boxing ring and in the squad room, and with the powers that be. Their friendship anchors the first part of this film. They agree to a boxing match, promoted by the District Attorney who hopes to pass a bond measure which will line several department pockets, which turns out to be incrediblely brutal: Bucky's front teeth are bashed out by Lee, not due to Lee's skil but due to Bucky's need to pay for a nursing home for his aging and mad father.

The passing of the bond measure puts the two into a partnership in the Warrents office of the department, a very sought after job within the Force. Soon they are bonding over crooks and over Lee's girlfriend Kay, played by a OVERACTING and way too OBVIOUS Scarlett Johansen. Their relationship to this woman is marred by Scarlett's hysterics (where is the delicate actor of Lost In Translation, I ask) and the obvious disconnection of the men to her.

Eventually Lee and Bucky are dragged, by the maddening Lee, into the investigation of the Black Dahlia homicide, the murder of Elizabeth Short. We first see her body from a far off view, having first been in a gun battle with Lee, Bucky, and some crooks on the over side of the street. The discovery of her body is played as a distant horror, not unlike an atomic explosion but one that poisons everything and everyone around it. It is only when we are explicitly shown the body does the horror fade.

Lee becomes increasingly obsessed with the case, pushing an anxious Kay into Bucky's arms. During Bucky's investigation of the Dahlia case, we are introduced to Liz Short through screen tests that she has given and through the lenses of a porn film that she shot, with another woman. Liz Short is played by Mia Kurshner who gives the performance that Scarlett and Hilary SHOULD have given, but didn't. Mia is haunting as the complexity of this iconic image, whom may have actually been a real person, with reasons and unreasons, passions...Her porn film is exciting and terrifying, in much the same way as the rape scene in Irreversible was, and throughout it all, her face haunts.

Also, Bucky meets Madelaine Lindscott, played by a very lifeless-yet-overreaching Hilary Swank, a wealthy dyke-baiter who slums in gay bars in order to...shock herself, perhaps, out of her numbness? Anyway, they fuck. But before that, we are treated to an introductory dinner with the Lindscott clan: mother Ramona, obviously mad; father, Emmett the clan patriarch and all round fuckhead; and sister Martha, who draws a cartoon of Bucky fucking her sister from behind. The scene is marvellous in that it is a Goya grotesquery come to vivid life. It is De Palma's looks inside the grotesque that are so alive. Bucky comes to discover that a small connection to the Black Dahlia with Lindscott but plays it down the police files for sex with Madelaine.

Lee is killed by two mysterious killers after murdering a man from whom he had stolen a great deal of money, a subplot that works in the book but is flat onscreen. This man had also scarred Kay but, really, we could care less. The murder of Lee is shocking due to one of the killers and Lee falling head first into a fountain, with Bucky yelling in slow motion. De Palma shows us the shattering of brains, even though we live in a killer culture, was actually enough to push me back in my seat.

The film loses its steam here. Ramona, who blows her own head off after confessing, and the mystery killer who fell head first killed the Black Dahlia, Madelaine killed Lee for trying to blackmail her father-lover, Bucky shoots Madelaine dead, and Bucky lives somewhat happily ever after with Kay. End.

This is very obviously an early cut of the film, there are colour and focus corrections to be made and the score was made up of music from LA Confidental in certain scenes. The film needs to trust Josh Harnett as Bucky and Mia Kurshner as Lizabeth Short. The film needs to rest on their shoulders because, at its heart, this is what the film is about: this man's relationship with the icon of this woman and the violence toward women that is an aspect of his culture. There are several cuts that can be made because there is a startling film in this movie that is just waiting to happen. However Scarlett and Hilary need to be cut from this picture severly for this to work as their acting proved, again and again, to be a distraction from the twin hearts of this play: Bucky and Lee, Bucky and the Dahlia.

I hope this works.

Call me Anon if you must.

Here’s a guy who seems to really know and love his DePalma, which is always a good thing:

Hey Harry,

Just got home from another preview screening of The Black Dahlia. And, first off, I want to slightly discredit your earlier reviewer. I read his review before I left for the screening and was waiting for the “steamy threeway shit,” but it never seemed to happen. But I’m happy to report that he was right about the “great fucking performances” and the “great twisted and moody storytelling techniques” from DePalma.

I’ve had a casual fascination with the story of the Black Dahlia for a long time now and have been waiting anxiously for the film to be made. I’ve watched as director after director has attempted this project, just to leave to make another movie. But DePalma is a perfect fit for the material. I’ve never read James Ellroy’s book on the murder… I bought it… just never read it (hence the “casual fascination”), but I’ve watched a couple A&E documentaries on the still unresolved murder. It’s got all the requisite elements for a great film, but the case’s complexities must’ve scared off some more timid filmmakers… not DePalma.

In a sense, this is a culmination of many of his earlier films. All the tricks, all the style, and all the great performances that we’ve seen him pull off over the years come together here. Now, some may not be fans of his more filmic/operatic style. To them, I say, “Too bad.” This is some serious filmmaking by a serious filmmaker who seems to, at once, push cinematic style boundaries, borrow from old masters, and embrace what a film can offer. What I mean is that he knows this is a film. DePalma doesn’t go for verite… he uses camera work, lighting, music, and all of the other conventions of film to tell one helluva story. And, in a brilliant way, manipulate the audience.

As for the story, what struck me was that it wasn’t really about The Black Dahlia case. Sure, it’s the driving force behind the story but it’s more like the MacGuffin (not far-fetched considering the strong De Palma/Hitchcock connection). It’s like saying Giant was about oil. It was. But it’s more about the characters and their relationships. So, too, here. Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart play detectives in 1947 Los Angeles who are also minor celebrities around town. They soon get wrapped up in the Black Dahlia case, with – as you can imagine – fatal consequences. I have yet to see a role that Eckhart doesn’t nail. And nail it he does. But Josh Hartnett surprised me the most. He hasn’t really impressed me in anything (except for Black Hawk Down)… he always seemed like a big nothing. But the film’s story centers on him. It’s a lot of pressure and, with just about every scene, he really got me to have a change of heart about him. Eckhart’s girlfriend is played by Scarlett Johansson, who turns down her sex appeal (a LITTLE bit) to be the “good girl with dark secrets.” So, no threeway, but plenty of steam. Speaking of steam, like your other contributor wrote, Hilary Swank ooooozed sex. She is the true femme fatale of the film. You never know whether to trust her or kiss her… either way, though, you’d be fucked.

The story takes many labyrinthine twists and turns into subplots and character-driven drama to eventually return to the case at hand… which gets wrapped up… but never resolved. Meaning: the murderer of poor, misguided Elizabeth Short is revealed… but we all know that the case isn’t closed.

Now, as for the twists, turns, and subplots… I love the fact that De Palma doesn’t underestimate the audience. He throws a lot onto the screen and you really have to be paying attention to every second or else you’ll miss a vital bit of information. And, because of this, I was almost motivated towards violence when the people next to me (and behind me) kept saying, “Who’s that?... Why is he there?... and so on.” Maybe if they shut the hell up, we’d all know what is going on. BUT how much is too much? I’ll have to see it a second time to really know. The similarities to LA Confidential are obvious. Not only do they both share the Ellroy connection, they both beg for a second viewing which may clear up some details that fly by every minute.

I’m not sure if the music was final… but it was fantastic. I heard some folks chucking about the heavy-handed piano in a couple of moments but, for me, it took me back to The Untouchables… and that ain’t such a bad feeling. Oh, and speaking of The Untouchables, there is a death scene which rivals the tension of the now-famous train station sequence. Clean marble, harsh (and revealing) shadows, slow-motion running, and a wickedly brutal fall… it was one of those moments where I felt pure love & respect for this director. *SPOILER ALERT* Sure, one of the beloved main characters dies in this scene… but I had a huge smile on my face.

There are times that I love living in LA. While there’s not a long history here, there’s a rich one which allows me to buy into the Raymond Chandler/James Ellroy dicks & dames vision of the place. Anytime I can see a master filmmaker paint such a dark, complex, and riveting vision of this messed-up land of dreams, I’m there.

If you use this, call me CaponeyBaloney.

And we’ll leave this tonight on a positive note:

I went to Sherman Oaks tonight to see a screening of Brian DePalma's The Black Dahlia. They told us we were the first audience to see it. I love DePalma's movies, but I feel like his latest releases haven't been quite as good (specifically Femme Fatale and Snake Eyes). That being said, this one is really good. I mean REALLY good. I loved it and I can't wait to see it again when it comes out. The narrative is really dense and requires your full attention to follow everything that occurs. I must say that the complex story is a good thing considering how stupid movies are nowadays.

Most of the actors were fantastic. Aaron Eckhart and Scarlet Johannsen were really good, but Josh Hartnett and Hillary Swank were both amazing. Swank almost steals the show and maybe could get a supporting actress nod? All the bit parts are performed well by mostly unknown actors (the bad guy from Dumb & Dumber is really freakin' good as a detective).

The cinematography was amazing, as you would come to expect from a DePalma movie. But instead of just masturbating Hitchcock, as he often does, the form definitely serves the content in this film. All of the great shots build suspense in the most suspenseful moments without taking the audience out of the picture.

Sadly I don't think people got the movie. I stayed afterward for the focus group and the people who spoke were retarded. They clearly didn't know the conventions of a film noir and wanted to see a dumbed-down version of the film. They probably accidentally walked in on this film, expecting it to be Cheaper by the Dozen 2 or some crap like that. I really hope the studio doesn't force DePalma to cut it down because all the nuances, LA in the 1940s, the complex narrative, and the smaller characters are excellent.

So we can see that reactions are all over the place on this one so far. That only makes me want to see it more. Thanks, everyone.

"Moriarty" out.

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