Then there’s the acting, which is too often risible, with Hartnett and Johansson being the worst offenders. Hartnett’s performance is so wooden he could be mistaken for a backdrop, and if this lacklustre effort was the only example of Johansson’s talents, one could be forgiven for thinking that she’s not even good enough to be in pornography.
Perhaps they simply lack experience and maturity. Remember, Humphrey Bogart was in his 40s when he played his part in making film noir great. Hartnett and Johansson are just too young for the genre – and too damn pretty.
Hilary Swank makes a passable effort in her role as the femme fatale Madeleine Linscott, but she’s sadly miscast, and Aaron Eckhart delivers the best performance of the lot by just managing to keep his head above water.
The film is at least an aesthetic success. It’s highly stylised and deliberate, with typical De Palma hallmarks like long choreographed shots and scenes shot from the point of view of one of the characters. De Palma uses the trappings of film noir to create an atmosphere of dreamlike detachment, with cruel, emotionally damaged characters that distance themselves from their own feelings to avoid pain and suffering. It’s a harsh urban environment, filled with betrayal and violence, and De Palma excels at creating this kind of atmosphere.
De Palma is a great director who has been sadly let down by a patchy script and sloppy editing which only adds to the confusion. Rumour has it that The Black Dahlia was initially planned to be a three hour movie, but an hour of footage was cut from the final release. This could explain why it feels like it needs more time to tell its whole story comprehensively. Maybe that extra hour would do the trick. There are so many subplots, it could even be a mini series.
It’s disappointing, but, even with the sub par acting, this could have been a much better film. Let’s hope a future “Director’s Cut” rescues it from being nothing more than a beautiful, useless mess.
- Chris McEvoy
Brian De Palma's adaptation of James Ellroy's novel begins as a beautiful piece of film noir, but the script steadily degenerates into a convoluted mess.
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