Being a fan of period movies and a fan of author James Ellroy, one would think that the film version of “Black Dahlia” would be right in my wheelhouse. It came and went from the theaters without much fuss, so I figured I’d wait until DVD to catch it. Thank god I got it from the library – the only way I could have hated it more was if I paid money to see it.
Granted, “L.A. Confidential” set the bar fairly high. The 1997 flick did pretty much everything right; especially the screenwriters, who took an amazingly complex plot from the novel and forged it into a compact, stylish thriller on screen. Plus, it should have won the Oscar for Best Picture that year if “Titanic” hadn’t come out that same year.
But on the other hand, the producers of “Black Dahlia” could have used “LAC” as blueprint and roadmap: they obviously didn’t. The filmed version of Ellroy’s lurid tale of two Los Angeles detectives seeking the Black Dahlia killer is flabby and boring, with a screenplay that often makes no sense and gives us no reason to care about anyone or anything. Josh Hartnett is decent but is completely miscast as the lead. Hillary Swank probably does the best acting job, playing the part of a campy, vampy femme fatale, but since everyone else is playing their roles straight, Swank is all by herself and seems as if she comes from a different movie.
Also, at some point, we as a culture are going to have to come to terms with the fact that Scarlett Johansson cannot act. Granted, the girl’s pretty to look at, but she’s got all the grace of a nose tackle and looks lost when on the screen with a Swank or an Aaron Eckhart, people with actual acting chops.
Director Brian DePalma makes the film look pretty, and it deserved all the cinematography props it got, but unless you want to watch with the sound off, skip it. James Ellroy deserves better.