Black Dahlia’s big stars fail to shine

By Nicole Osuch
October 6, 2006

Since the gruesome murder of Elizabeth Short on Sept. 15, 1947 nearly six decade ago, the unsolved case has been captured by James Ellroy’s best selling novel and, now, on the big screen.

“The Black Dahlia” is an adaptation of James Ellroy’s sensational tale of the murder of the attractive, aspiring actress, Elizabeth Short, a 22-year old in the Hollywood hills. The case has all the components of a successful Hollywood blockbuster: sex, love triangles, beauty, violence, mystery and political corruption. Except that Director Brian De Palma, whose extensive resume of past films includes “Carrie,” “Blow Out,” and “Dressed to Kill,” miscast a few of the lead roles causing there to be a disconnect and did not execute the last scene well.

Detectives in the homicide department for the Los Angeles Police Department, Lee Blanchard and Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert played by Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett share a passion for boxing among other things. Their supervisor hands over the investigation of the brutal murder of Elizabeth Short. Short’s body was found cut in half, drained of blood, with a cut from the side of her mouth to her ear on either side, scars on both her wrists and ankles which insinuates that she was tortured and placed nude in a vacant property in a Los Angeles town.

Blanchard and Bleichert uncover Short’s sketchy past bringing special attention to Short’s numerous boyfriends, random films, appearances in pornographic films and affair with Madeleine Linscott, played by Hilary Swank. Mia Kershiner captures the essence of Elizabeth Short with her dark black hair, blood red lips, fair skin and alluring blue eyes. The detectives become obsessed and consumed with the case so much that Blanchard’s relationship with Kay Lake played by the stunning Scarlett Johansson begins to become more distant as she falls more often into the company of Bleichert. Bleichert gets tangled up in sexual encounters with Madeleine who eerily resembles the dead girl. Bleichert is introduced to Madeleine’s wacky, yet famous Hollywood family, including her father and drunken mother whose face reveals an unshakable clue to the murder.

During Blanchard’s, absence a love triangle blossoms. Bleichert begins to fall for Blanchard’s girlfriend, Kay. When the murder mystery is solved by Bleichert, audiences are left in shock at who the murderer turns out to be.

Viewers were drawn in by the stunning appearances of the leading ladies which included Oscar Award Winner for “Million Dollar Baby,” Hilary Swank and Scarlett Johansson, who has received four Golden Globe nominations and appeared in films such as “In Good Company” and “Match Point.” There seemed to be a disconnect in casting. More time was spent noticing the acting jobs of the performers that, as a result, took away from the film.

So much that Swank’s role seemed forged. It was difficult to picture her in the role of a manipulating seductress. Hartnett’s performance seemed weak as well. It seemed that he was too innocent to play the part of an ex-boxer and intuitive detective who gets involved in such scandalous business for insistence having an affair with a woman who has information imperative to the case.

Movie goers may have been expecting to get a glimpse into the life of Elizabeth Short and her dreadful murder, but instead they got more of a love story. Throughout the film, it was difficult to decipher between what scenes were important to the story line and what were just placed in the film to give it more oomph. The performances in the last scene of “The Black Dahlia,” when the murderer is revealed seemed confusing and exaggerated on the actor’s parts. Clues were sloppily worked into the film that originally seemed like insignificant occurrences in the film, until the murderer was accused. Overall, the movie was entertaining but hard to follow at times

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Nicole Osuch

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