Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here.
This is a strongly negative review by MiraJeff, and he certainly seems to be firm in his opinion. I’ve got my own review of BLACK DAHLIA coming up in the next day or so, and I’ll say this... it’s fairly different than MiraJeff’s. For now, here’s what he has to say...
MiraJeff here. No greetings. No nothing. Not this time. Just wow. Jaw-dropping, head-scratching wow. Inexcusable. Unforgivable. Make no mistake about it, The Black Dahlia is awful. Put that one on the poster. Hey, don't cut me in half, I'm just the messenger. But seriously, as far as I'm concerned, The Black Dahlia is a career-ender. It pains me to say this but I wouldn't care if Brian DePalma never made another film ever again. This is easily his worst outing ever, even worse than Snake Eyes. The film is simply horrifying and I don't mean that as a compliment. This is a movie that is so bad, I think everyone involved in it needs to go away for a little while, like J. Lo and Affleck did after Gigli. You really have no idea how excited I was for this movie and how terrifically disappointing it was.
Tonally, The Black Dahlia is all over the place. It's a major turkey that drowns in a swamp of pointless subplots with plot holes the size of moon craters. The overbearing horn-heavy score feels lifted straight out of a Cinemax thriller starring Andrew Stevens. There's a positively loopy villain who is played so over-the-top the audience of critics that I saw the film with was laughing as if they were watching Caddyshack. The film is a total mess from the hammy acting to Josh Friedman's horrible screenplay to DePalma's unsure, uneven direction.
From its off-putting opening shot of Bucky Bleichert, aka Mr. Ice (Josh Hartnett) sitting in his locker room before a much-hyped boxing match between him and fellow cop Lee Blanchard, aka Mr. Fire (Aaron Eckhart), I just knew the whole movie would suck more than an OCD person's vacuum. It immediately felt off, a thought reinforced by the ridiculous riot of sorts that rages during the opening credits, where we see Bucky come to Lee's rescue. To get into specifics of the plot would just waste my time and yours. A fame-hungry actress named Elizabeth Short is brutally murdered and becomes more famous in death than she ever would have been while alive. Two cops go crazy in the pursuit of justice, and there's some sex thrown in for the hell of it. Of course there's a whole lot more story but it's so complicated and uninterestingly off-topic that I won't bore you with the details.
There were times when I couldn't believe what I was watching. HOW? How do you fuck this up? How do you take the focus away from Elizabeth Short and try and invest us in this half-cocked Bobby DeWitt story, or John Nash, or any of the other criminals who waste our heroes time and divert attention from the real story, you know, the case that the film is named after. I can promise you this, if David Fincher made this film like he was supposed to, this never would have happened. The Black Dahlia is among the worst I've seen this year, and just to refresh your memory, that would include London, Tamara, and An American Haunting.
One of the main problems is that just about everyone is horribly miscast and one-note. Hartnett, who just a few months ago was solid in the noir-ish Lucky Number Slevin, seems like he's at a complete loss as to how to play his character. He looks like a boy dressing up to play detective and feels so out of place he drags the film down one scene at a time. Not only is he way too young for the role but he's way too soft. A guy like Brad Pitt or Russell Crowe could've done something, anything with the character, but Hartnett is about as bland as paste. You can see him straining for Jack Nicholson in Chinatown but certainly this is no Chinatown or even LA Confidential. It doesn't help that the way his voice-over is written is cringe-inducing and crippling and Hartnett's acting, from the sex scenes to his scenes of emotional distress are flat out embarrassing. He had to know how bad this was going to turn out and only hope DePalma could fix it in the editing room which evidently he couldn't.
Scarlett is beautifully photographed (especially in soft-focus) and it's no secret the camera loves her, but her character is more one-dimensional than a stick figure. There's a scene with Scarlett watching a movie between her supercop boyfriends and she's supposed to be scared, but the only thing that's scary is how heinous her acting is.
Hilary Swank, a two-time Oscar winner, is thoroughly wasted as a wealthy, misunderstood, flesh-peddling vixen, one of the vicious femme fatales DePalma seems to be so fixated on these days. She looks sexy as hell but the only thing the role requires of her is to vamp it up while spouting inconsequential dialogue in a lame accent whenever she's not licking Hartnett's chest.
Eckhart escapes this thing the cleanest but that's only because he's killed off relatively early on in a bizarre turn of events that is nearly unexplainable if not for the exposition-heavy finale that forces us to swallow an information pill that we can't help but choke on. The first half hour features the same charming Eckhart who wowed us in LaBute films and most recently, Thank You For Smoking. But once The Black Dahlia enters the picture he flies off the handle, exploding into a raving lunatic. His character morphs into a drug-addled rageaholic with little or no explanation as to why or how he becomes so obsessed with the case in a span of 4 days.
And that's another thing that smells fishy about the movie. The whole chronology is condensed into like a week because to show characters spiraling downward over a period of several years, which is what really happened in the Dahlia case, would require a much better screenwriter than the guy who wrote War of the Worlds, aka one third of a good movie, and that was with The Bearded One calling the shots.
This film is a bigger mess than The Black Dahlia crime scene. The sex is mind-numbingly gratuitous, distracting, and worst of all boring. Scarlett had it better when Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was humping her in a field in the middle of a rainstorm in Match Point. Hell, watching her and Bill Murray canoodle in Lost in Translation was sexier than the dinner table romp Hartnett gives her.
There is just no point to at least half the movie, especially the first 20 minutes which laboriously introduce us to our main characters, our supercops, as Kay calls them. The whole riot that the film opens with looks terribly staged and who cares that the department respects them as detectives because they're good boxers? Shall I go on? I hated the wipes. They took me out of the film. I hated some of the whirring pans because the camera is constantly moving. And the last 20 minutes are full-blown ridiculous and would rate an 11 on a 1-10 scale of preposterousness.
So what did I like? Well for one, the film does look great, and you would never be able to tell the bulk of it was filmed in Bulgaria, but that's more thanks to the lush cinematographer than DePalma. The supporting cast of cops isn't bad, but they're mere scenery, decorations on the cake that is our foul foursome of Hartnett, Eckhart, Scarlett and Swank. Eckhart is given the film's single best shot as he leers from behind a champagne glass at Hartnett and Scarlett dancing sensuously, but as the camera closes in on Eckhart's telling face, DePalma axes the moment before it can fully become one.
The supporting cast of cops isn't bad, but they're mere scenery, decorations on the cake that is our foul foursome of Hartnett, Eckhart, Scarlett and Swank. The best overall performance comes from the Dahlia herself, as Mia Kirschner projects a vulnerability that Scarlett and Swank both distinctly lack.
Brian DePalma should be cut in half and sliced ear to ear for the hack job he did here. How this film is even being released is beyond me, but it's no wonder it's opening in the September dumping ground. With the pedigree this thing has you'd think it'd open on Christmas Day, but that would be the worst gift in the world for moviegoers. Word of mouth is going to kill this thing quicker than Elizabeth Short. I urge you, implore you, beg you to steer clear of this stinker. It is an absolute embarrassment and everyone involved in it, from DePalma to Art Linson to the caterer should be completely ashamed of themselves.
You know, years ago I wrote a screenplay called Forty Whacks about the most notorious unsolved murder in Massachusetts, the Lizzie Borden murders. My first draft isn't exactly ready for the big screen but and I can still say it's better than this dreck that should have Josh Friedman run out of town. Holy shit I just didn't see this coming at all. I love dark shit like this but there is hardly anything remotely likable about the entire film. Avoid it at all costs, even for free.
That'll do it for me, folks. I'll be back with much more positive reviews of Gridiron Gang (not bad, but certainly not very good) and The Last Kiss (a nice surprise).
'Til then, this is MiraJeff signing off...