Wednesday, February 27, 2013

REVIEW: The Black Dahlia (2006)

The Black Dahlia is a 2006 historical mystery/thriller about the infamous Black Dahlia murder in the 40s. However, you’d be hard pressed to really find anything about the actual murder in this film, as this is a movie that seems more preoccupied with…oh, just about everything BUT the goddamn murder.

Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank

I guess it’s based on a book from the 80s or something, and, hey, if done well, a story like this could be potentially good. A sort of brooding drama about the lives of two cops investigating the murder. Nothing wrong with that in principle…but the thing is, The Black Dahlia is a horrible movie. It’s been a while since a movie had me going ‘Just end! Just end already!’ after every scene in my head. It’s also been a while since a script made me want to strangle every single character in it and then light their bloated corpses on fire, but hey, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Let me take you readers on a journey now, through the pits of ineptitude capable by man…let me take you through the horrendous well of never-ending suck that is The Black Dahlia.


We start off in the 1940s! Isn’t that amazing? They never let you forget it; what with the constant sepia tone and the set pieces that come off more like a high school production of a Sherlock Holmes story than anything actually genuine. Every single set design, every character costume, every prop is just screaming out ‘look at me! Look at me! I’m from the ‘40s! Really!’ Like a little kid dressing up in a police officer costume on Halloween and then later begging his mom to take him to McDonalds. Eugh.

But enough of that – let’s get to the main attractions here: Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart, playing two cops who are so cool that they hang out chatting about boxing during riots and rebellions in the street. It’s a flashback from the present time when Hartnett is getting ready to fight Eckhart in the ring; sure. But seriously – we see all this cool stuff going on, all this action, and what is Hartnett narrating about over top? “I really thought it would be cool to have a boxing match with the guy from Suspect Zero.” That’s crap and you know it, movie!

What this movie wants us to believe: scenes like the one above, packed with action and social intrigue, are worth skipping over and barely mentioning at all as part of the story...
...while THIS SHIT is considered top-dollar stuff! The cream of the crop! Pfft, get over yourself movie.

And that’s another thing that’s really annoying in this movie…Hartnett’s butt-clenching awful narration, which is about as convincing as a twelve year old doing a Marlon Brando impersonation and editing it over the actual footage of The Godfather. It’s awful and contrived and I hate it – moving on, then.

Gee, I’ve spent so much time on this movie already and I haven’t even gotten to the main plot…well, what is the main plot? Well, Aaron Eckhart beats the crap out of Josh Hartnett and then invites him to hang out with him and his wife, because that makes a lot of sense, right? “Hey, I just knocked out several of your teeth. Want to come hang out with my wife Scarlett Johansson, so she can flirt with you while I’m not around? Yes? Awesome!”

Is that sepia tone getting irritating yet? Yes? Well, we're only 15 minutes into the goddamn movie. TRY SOME OTHER COLOR SCHEMES YOU HACKS.

Yeah, Scarlett Johansson plays Eckhart’s wife in this movie, and I think it’s actually a really impressive performance. Not because of her actual acting or anything; no – she’s about as convincing as a wooden plank would be. But because it’s so damn obvious that she didn’t care at all when doing this whole movie. She doesn’t even try to hide how much she doesn’t give a crap. You can practically see her waiting to get back to her trailer and smoke a joint after every scene she’s in.

It’s hilarious how Eckhart sees them dancing together at a party and gets that squinty jealous, suspicious look in his eyes – dude, YOU INVITED HIM TO YOUR HOUSE. How do you have any right to act jealous now?

"I get jealous even though I let my wife dance with random, attractive younger guys I physically bring home to her...I guess I'm kind of a dumbass."

I also love this one scene where Hartnett comes in and sees Johansson stripped down to her underwear just standing there washing her face in the sink. She turns around and sees Hartnett checking her out, and does nothing…uh, how about closing the door, you goddamn bimbo? I know you really want to bang Hartnett for no reason at all, but c’mon, be a little more subtle about it! Since we know so little about her relationship with Eckhart or even her as a stand-alone character, it’s hard to get invested in crap like this, makes little sense, and is mostly more humorous than dramatic or suggestive.

"Oh, closing the door is just so hard, especially when me and my husband made a new friend who apparently feels at home enough to just walk in at any time! But luckily I totally want his body for reasons only privy to hack screenwriters!"

Hartnett notices a big scar on her back that says ‘B.D.,’ which he uses his masterful detective skills to figure out means Bobby DeWitt, who was some pimp scumbag who she used to work for, who is currently in jail but getting out soon. Hartnett muses on how people hurt women all the time and…has anyone else noticed the big problem with this yet? They haven’t even talked about the Black Dahlia murder at all! We sure get a lot of nonsense about boxing, about the relationships between men at the police station and a lot of fluff about Hartnett hanging out with Eckhart and Johansson and going to the movies…but when your movie is called ‘The Black Dahlia,’ and you spend this much time on very poorly written drama and exposition, hell, you can see how I’d be disappointed! Just get to it already, you hacks! God, I’ve seen neighborhood watch meetings that are more exciting than this movie.

So we get some crap about some mob boss guy who they have to go arrest, and there’s some shootout. I guess there’s a minor subplot about the Black Dahlia murder, which finally occurs, but really, that’s just a minor side plot. Where’s the riveting talk about boxing? We also really need more scenes with Scarlett Johansson flirting with Hartnett behind her husband’s back. Who cares about the real, historical event that the title of this movie is based on? Deliver the good stuff, movie!

But, yeah, all jokes aside, the murder finally happens, so we get some scenes of Hartnett and Eckhart investigating stuff around town. They’re poorly done and cliché scenes, sure, but at least at over 30 minutes into the movie – yes, over 30 minutes in – we’re finally on the main plot. Baby steps, you know?

Scenes that have something to do with the Black Dahlia murder? Wow, I totally didn't expect that given the way this was going. It sure is an interesting sub plot, but when are we getting back to the main plot about romantic whining and cheating on husbands and boxing and stuff? This is pretty boring.

Hartnett, I guess, learns that there is some woman in Hollywood who looks identical to the murdered girl, so off he goes, ever the super detective. He meets up with the woman, who is played by Academy Award winning actress Hilary Swank…anyone expecting a good performance out of this great actress will be as disappointed as they were with the other big names in the film, as miraculously director Brian De Palma managed to take a bunch of these huge actors and get the worst performances possible out of each and every one of them. What a perfect load of asinine horseshit. Swank’s character is a cardboard cutout of a noir lady, only there to look hot in low-cut dresses and flirt with Hartnett in a silly accent…charming, if you’re 13.

"I won two Oscars, and now I'm in this movie acting like I'm strung out on meth and happy pills at the same time. Life sucks."

To get him to hide evidence and keep her name out of reports, she flirts with him and gets him to agree to come see her the next night, and he accepts because he is the greatest detective ever…all great detectives take bribes and are easily fooled by a pretty face! But while I was expecting a hot, steamy sex scene, we get this:

That’s right, she invites him in to meet her parents, and the first thing she shows him is a petrified dog. Apparently the dog was trained to fetch the paper, and on one particular day, Swank’s daddy learned that he got a big promotion, and so he shot the dog in place and left the newspaper in its mouth to remember the occasion forever. And nobody seems to consider this at all creepy, disturbing, morally wrong or an unholy abomination of nature! Anyone with good sense would just turn the movie off right now, after this plus all the other injustices to human decency this movie has, but not me. I hate this movie far too much to let my viewing up to now go to waste by not finishing. Let’s do this!

I love how Hartnett got suckered into an awkward date with her parents there and everything…that’s priceless, and because this movie caused me so much pain, seeing this gave me some vindictive catharsis. That pained look on his face like “I was thinking we’d be having sex by now, not listening to your lunatic father and horrible-acting mother” is just priceless. It’s not enough to make up for the rest of the god-awful cinematic train-wreck, but at least it’s something.

They do eventually have sex and everything, and it’s about what you’d expect – pretty much just a space-waster to put some smut up on the screen, and it doesn’t even last longer than half a minute or so. This movie is about as erotic as watching a porno with your grandparents.

Have you forgotten about the mutilated dead girl in this movie yet?

So really, there isn’t a whole lot to say about the middle of the movie because it’s just Hartnett and Eckhart going on a tour of the super obvious, gratuitous 1940s settings with scowls on their faces while Hartnett narrates overtop in his super-serious gritty detective voice – keep it up there, buddy, maybe someday you’ll really sound halfway convincing! The movie even just stops for a bit to show us how cool the 1940s were by showing us their comically over the top set pieces:

THIS IS THE 1940S! THIS IS THE 1940S! Did you get that yet?! Didja?!?
Did I mention the obnoxious repetitive saxophone notes played throughout, as if to accentuate every other 1940s stereotype this movie could pile on? No?'s obnoxious.

So, you may be asking, what’s going on with Aaron Eckhart’s character? Yeah, I know you don’t give a shit about him in the least, but just pretend you do and go with it. Apparently overnight he became obsessed and insane over the Black Dahlia case and is now acting totally crazy all the time, shouting at his wife and causing scenes at work. I love how, when he causes a scene at work, Hartnett gets dragged in with him to get chewed out…seriously, why? It was obviously only Eckhart who made any trouble! Do they just think Hartnett looks cute or something?

And seriously – Eckhart being this crazy is not a good sign. Have you guys seen the last time he got like this?

Not a happy time.

But really, though; this whole plot thread about Eckhart going crazy is so poorly handled that I find it hard to believe that veteran Scarface director Brian De Palma actually orchestrated it. There’s no segueway! There’s no character development! He’s normal in one scene, then we cut away from him for 5 minutes, then the next time we see him, he’s raving mad. That’s beyond third-rate screenwriting; that’s like seventh-rate screenwriting! Somebody send this writer back to college and teach him how to write a proper goddamn story. Shit. What’s his name; Josh Friedman? And he hasn’t written anything else since this movie? Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me very much!

There’s one scene where his wife Scarlett Johansson explains that he’s so gung-ho because he lost his kid sister when he was younger, and so now any murdered girl reminds him of her. For one…that’s retarded. And two, really, a one-line explanation is a serviceable character development now? Go to hell, movie.

Anyway, apparently that DeWitt guy from earlier is being released now. Since The Black Dahlia is allergic to having scenes involving the actual Black Dahlia, we get a fight scene between him and Eckhart. There’s a struggle, and DeWitt ends up dead, but then a mysterious figure also slits Eckhart’s throat and kills him, too, throwing him over the balcony.

"I'm so glad I'm finally out of this movieeeeeeeeeeee!" *splat*

Johansson is so broken up about her husband’s death that she and Hartnett start making out almost immediately afterwards:

Look how sad they are! They're just broken up over Eckhart's death!

What a two-timing slut-whore. I guess dead husbands turn her on? This seriously pisses me off, and for that to happen when I’ve already had my brain melted by the rest of this movie’s mind-numbing insanity and stupidity is a pretty big feat. Bitch, your husband just died! I know nobody in this movie can show any kind of emotion beyond over-done melodramatic whining, but come on! How am I supposed to be invested in a character that just shrugs off the death of her husband like five minutes after it happens?

No, literally, it’s instantaneous. He gets killed, Hartnett looks sad, he goes over to her house and they talk about it for like a minute, and then they’re making out. It’s not even like grief sex, either; no; the next morning they’re snuggling and smiling and talking about what to make for breakfast. WHAT PLANET AM I ON? This is despicable and low even for this shitty ass movie! I hope Josh Friedman or the author of the book or whoever the hell authored this crap gets a rude awakening one day when they realize the ramifications of loss can’t be solved by shacking up with your buddy’s grieving spouse the very same day. Ugh.

Look at all that heavy grieving they're doing!

Okay, whatever, so it’s revealed that Johansson was keeping stolen money from this drug deal that Eckhart was helping to cover up, which is why he killed one of the guys in that shootout earlier. This plot thread is pointless and largely evokes a yawn from the audience, but it does get Hartnett back into the loving arms of Hilary Swank’s character! Because that’s really what I wanted to see! More running around to unlikable female characters for contrived, ridiculous melodrama! Why isn’t this god-forsaken movie over yet? It’s like torture! This should be used as a torture device on terrorists at Guantanamo! If you won’t close it down, Obama, at least make the best use of it possible!

So it’s then revealed that it may have been Hilary Swank’s character’s father who killed the Black Dahlia girl, because…he was in the house when she was making a pornographic lesbian film? I really don’t know, and I really don’t care. Two seconds later, we find out that this was all a red herring, and that the father didn’t do it, but the MOTHER did! Yeah, great suspense there, movie. That was, what, maybe a minute or two at most that we thought it was the father who committed the crime? Well, I was just on the edge of my seat, I say!

Whenever someone tries to tell you this is a good movie...just show them this face, and they'll shut up right away. And seriously, this lady's performance is just amazingly awful. If she didn't get awarded a Razzie for this I'll be very surprised.

But yes. This movie just solved the Black Dahlia murder. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that just so smart and revolutionary? 60 years of policework couldn’t do it, but a hack screenwriter like Friedman and the doofus who wrote the book can! I am just so blown away by this amazing twist! So blown away that I want to know more! Tell me, movie, why did Hilary Swank’s mother kill the Black Dahlia?

Well, apparently it’s because the Black Dahlia looked like Hilary Swank’s character. That’s really all we get. That’s the big reveal – she killed the girl because the girl looked like her daughter. How did she even get away with doing it right there in the yard? I dunno! The movie didn’t plan that far ahead. Well, I extend my middle fingers as high as they will go straight in the direction of this festering disease of a movie, this horrible collection of clichés and overdone melodramatic tropes!

That’s The Black Dahlia, and it----

What? WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S NOT OVER YET?! I still have more of this torture to sit through? Oh, God! Why? Why?!

So what, it’s revealed that Hilary Swank actually killed Eckhart earlier? Hartnett responds to this by shooting her and killing her right in her hotel room where they had sex earlier. He then goes back and gets together with Scarlett Johansson again and sees the Black Dahlia’s murdered, mutilated body lying on the ground in a vision, I guess symbolizing that he’s still thinking about the case. But like the movie as a whole, he just shrugs off the real, historical, UNSOLVED murder and goes inside to have more sex with Scarlett Johansson. Isn’t that just so perfect for this ass storm of a movie?

Hey, the sepia tone is gone! IT'S A MIRACLE!
"We can forget about this because it was never the main point of this movie and doesn't even deserve mentioning again. No, what's really important is that a man-slut cop gets together with a lying, horrible bitch who got over the death of her husband by having sex with his best friend five minutes after it happened. Truly she seems like the best person to be with!"

What they don’t show you is the police finding Swank’s dead body and throwing Hartnett in prison for murdering her. They don’t show you him getting ass-raped in prison for the rest of his life while Johansson’s character becomes a single mother and can’t give her unborn child a good life. They don’t show you those things, which would be a good thing in most movies. But I hated this movie so much, hated all of the characters, hated their reactions to every situation…I hated everything in this film so much that I WISHED we had seen that shit!

The Black Dahlia is just uuuuggggghhhhhhhh! I can’t even describe it in a proper English word, it’s so horrendous. Everything about this film is just painful, from the tacky sets and costumes to the convoluted plot and the horrible, unlikable characters. And it’s a shame, because some of these actors like Aaron Eckhart actually did try to make something good out of this, even in spite of the hack-work script, and even De Palma tries to conjure up some atmosphere with the admittedly decent camerawork. But nothing can salvage this botched up movie. The whole concept of introducing a romance subplot into a detective murder plot is iffy enough, but ending the movie on it is just creepy when you really think about it. It’s like, hey, here’s a story where a young girl got cut in half and mutilated beyond recognition…aren’t you glad it ended with a happy couple getting together? That just doesn’t work at all.

And the crowning jewel of awfulness has to be the fact that they solved the unsolved Black Dahlia murder, and not only that, but gave it such a weak and unimpressive story! All they could come up with was ‘she was killed because some mother thought she looked like her daughter’? Bullshit! That’s so anti-climactic it almost rewinds the entire movie back to the beginning. Which is a fate that nobody deserves. You really can’t just do that – resolve things that were actually unsolved in history. And if you do, you have to have godly writing skills to back it up and make it work for the story, make it plausible. So The Black Dahlia is a failure on pretty much every level, and I hate everything about it. I hope this movie burns in the lowest depths of cinematic hells imaginable!

The pictures in this review belong to their original owners. I do not own any of them.