I love everything about going to the cinema. I even love the bits that other people hate, like the wet smacking sound of people eating cheese nachos with their mouths open, or that special smell accrued from years of stale popcorn and flat soft drinks being mashed into the carpet. Mm mm. So when Weebl asked me to go and watch The Black Dahlia I immediately stopped writing ‘vorderman’ over and over again on my forehead with a fibre-tipped pen and rushed off. The result is the imaginitively titled Black Dahlia Review!
The Black Dahlia originally went into pre-production with mug-loving computer-monkey David Fincher as its director. Now Fincher may be an aesthetic genius, but Brian DePalma is the loon for this project, largely because 90% of his previous films seem to be about women being violently murdered by obsessive men.
It’s a film of two halves, what with more than two halves being mathematically impossible. On the one hand it desperately wants to be LA Confidential and it’s never going to hit that spot. Josh Hartnett is just not as good an actor as Russell Crowe. He’s not even as good an actor as the Crow that tries to chew on the Dahlia’s corpse. If you squint a bit, he looks like Tom Cruise, but that’s not going to look good on a CV.
The other two leads have the same sluggish weightlessness as Hartnett, and with an hour less time than LA Confidential the film’s twisty plotline has little room to manoeuvre, like trying to hold a kung-fu class in a phone booth (you know, those big square urinals on street corners).
Scratch the surface, though, and underneath you find the queasily gothic ransom note the film was meant to be. The supporting cast is a gang of excellent grotesques, twitching and sweating their way through Ellroy’s disturbing scenarios. Top of the pile is the first Linscott family scene, from the stuffed dog onwards. To add to this effect DePalma seems to have chosen a vast spectrum of flesh-tones for the film’s colour scheme, making it look like everything’s made of spam in various stages of decay. Finally, Mia Kershner as the Dahlia is a masterwork of damaged beauty, captured only in haunting ‘screen-tests’ presided over by the voice of DePalma himself.
Final verdict? Mostly worth seeing for the squirming badness glimpsed in the cracks, and the last half hour of twists will give you a nice dizzy feeling to take home with you to your secret apartment plastered with photos of dead ladies.