Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"She looks like that dead girl! How sick are you?"

Mes Amis

The Black Dahlia is one of those books I always reccomend to anyone looking to start on Ellroy. I think its pretty much a perfect starting point for Ellroy's intense and stylish brand of noir. Like much of Ellroy's work, its hard to imagine this making it to screen, but it always seemed like it would still be easier than filming LA Confidential and we all know they managed to make an amazing movie from that.

The Dahlia has everything you could want: obsession, darkness, illegal pornography, violence and psychology so fucked-up that you begin to wonder if there's any point to living in this world. It was dying to be made into a dark, bleak little film that could easily unsettle today's box-office friendly audience.

But then they gave it to Brian De Palma.

Don't get me wrong, I love some of of De Palma's work. Carlito's Way. Scarface. The Untouchables. That first Mission Impossible movie before John Woo showed us how to really piss on a franchise. But he's always skating the line between genius and travesty and with Dahlia he's forgotten the genius and gone straight into travesty. Something that should have been obvious from the moment he cast Josh fucking Hartnett (Forty Days and Forty Nights, for chrissakes!) as Bucky Bleichert. Has anyone ever seen a cop who's also a professional boxer with such perfect, baby-smooth skin? The guy must bathe in Johnson's baby-milk to look like that. Or else he's really just a very tall infant. Which might explain his acting style. Jesus, even when they get the opportunity to really fuck him up after his partner, Lee Blanchard (played by a half-asleep Aaron Eckhart) smacks him about in a boxing match, all that happens is he gets false teeth that look as perfect as his real ones. Deepen his voice all you want, Josh Hartnett is still a pansy.

The film is underplayed in all the wrong areas. The darkness and grimness of Ellroy's world are missing. The obsessions are all but overlooked. And instead, De Palma overplays the hystrionics so that when the final confessions come, they play like some melodramatic comedy. Never have I heard so many people sniggering at such a brutal crime as in the cinema the other night. Not since a production of MacBeth I once saw where "the traitor's accursed head" was actually a heavy paintpot that clanged as it hit the stage have I heard people trying not to laugh at bloody and violent murder. Because De Palma mistakes loud hystrionics for dark psychology and every time he does this (and it happens a lot) any poignancy is lost.

Miscast, over-directed and frankly bonkers, The Black Dahlia at least looks pretty. But ultimately its as bloodless as the corpse of Elizabeth Short and perhaps just as distressing in the cavalier and sensationalist in the way it dissects not just Ellroy's novel, but the real life case upon which it was based.

Au revoir


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