Flickadaweek: The Black Dahlia

L.A. Confidential is one of the finest movies of the last 50 years, and I’ll beat anybody who says different. Thus, any movie that treads in the same gumshoes has a huge mountain to climb. Of any contender, The Black Dahlia from last year brought the most storied pedigree to the table–the source material was the book of the same name by James Ellroy, the same cat who wrote L.A. Confidential. But the movie comes off as a TV-movie version of the same ’40s-era Los Angeles.

Basic plotline: a couple of L.A. cops in love with the same gorgeous sex bomb find themselves enmeshed in a horrific crime investigation–a young would-be actress is vivisected, cut in half, and left along the side of a road. Naturally, there are no true “good” guys, and everyone owes a debt that comes due–often in bloody fashion–by the end of the movie.

The thematic structure is similar to Confidential, as well, which does Dahlia no favors–Josh Hartnett is a watery copy of Russell Crowe; Scarlett Johannsen is smokin’ hot but doesn’t have the black widow charisma of Kim Basinger; Aaron Eckhart is the best of the bunch but still can’t match the manic intensity of Guy Pearce. It’s got some fine and creepy moments–you can’t go wrong with a bisected, leering corpse–but it also dissolves into some serious scene-chewing camp by the end of it all.

It’s not a bad movie, certainly; director Brian de Palma nails the look of the era. But we’re in the midst of a crime-drama renaissance on TV, so movies have to be much better than “not bad.” This one ain’t.


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