Day 359-- the Black Dahlia (2006)
Thursday, August 30, 2007
James Ellroy's novel the Black Dahlia is a macabre masterpiece, two-thirds dark crime procedural and a third near-gothic horror. It's a harsh book, but incredibly well-written and--frankly--incredibly captivating.
I had been following it's path to the silver screen with equal parts anticipation and dread; I loved the idea of seeing a film adaptation, but realized two stumbling blocks: the novel is overly intricate (maybe complex is the better word) and almost too graphic.
That said, I guess the resulting movie actually does an admirable job--subplots are streamlined, and director Brian De Palma is tasteful in some regards (almost ironic if you're familiar with De Palma pictures). But while much is right, the movie still sinks, especially in the tangled third act.
An adaptation of Ellroy's fictional take on the the murder of wannabe starlet Elizabeth Short, the movie follows two detectives in post-WWII L.A.: Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Harnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). Their introduction is set up very well: both are boxers on the side, and the LAPD uses them to drum up public support for a pension/budget increase plan. They end up becoming partners and best friends, sharing their time with Lee's sorta-girlfriend Kay Lake (Scarlett Johanson).
They eventually get caught up in Betty Short's murder, shattering friendships and lives as the movie progresses. Bucky eventually gets involved with a Short-lookalike and suspect (Hilary Swank), and things go wacky in that patented James Ellroy way.
But wait, it goes maybe too wacky--screenwriter Josh Friedman tweaked the novel's plot to get it to work on the screen, but a few changes make the last half of the film almost unbearable. The film gets bogged down in excess of every type (including hilarious over-acting), turning the novel's razor-sharp ending into a gooey farce. Look, I know film and page are different forms of art, but the movie sinks during the last half hour no matter what I think of the novel.
That said, Hartnett does a fair job as the lead--he was criticized as being cold, but he plays the Bucky of the novel well (aloof, reserved, almost too quiet). The rest of the cast is passable, but Eckhart is misused, and police brass Russ Millard (Mike Starr) and D.A. Ellis Loew (Pat Fischer) are sorely altered. Their characters were important in the novel, and could've easily been important in the film...but they ended up as mere window dressing, there to deliver plot points before being whisked away.
It's also worth noting that the real star of the movie is Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography. The movie LOOKS amazing; it's crisp and eerily sun-painted, just like an Ellroy novel. Zsigmond deserved the Oscar nod, that's for sure.
In the end, the Black Dahlia runs like this: it starts perfectly, and quickly sags to a cheap phoned-in neo-noir before the two hours are up. I might just go watch L.A. Confidential again (a good Ellroy adaptaion) and wait for White Jazz to come out next year.
Labels: review (movie)
posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/30/2007 11:09:00 PM,