out of Five
Running time: 120
The Black Dahlia is no L.A Confidential but it's still an engagingly stylish detective thriller with strong performances.
What's it all about?
The Black Dahlia is based on the novel by James Ellroy, which weaves a fictionalised tale around a shocking real-life murder in 1947 Los Angeles. Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart play ex-pugilist cops Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, who are asked to investigate the brutal murder of a B-list actress named Betty Ann Short (Mia Kershner).
As the mystery deepens, Blanchard finds himself becoming obsessed with the case, jeopardising his relationship with his girlfriend, Kay (Scarlett Johansson). Meanwhile, Bucky becomes involved with a woman named Madeleine (Hilary Swank), who seems somehow connected to the victim.
The performances, for the most part, are excellent - Josh Hartnett makes a surprisingly solid lead and Hilary Swank nearly steals the film as the enigmatic Madeleine. Eckhart is good but isn't really given enough screentime, whilst Scarlett Johansson stands around looking pretty and doing a little too much slack-jawed staring to really convince in her role.
Fortunately, the supporting cast are on top form, particularly Mia Kershner as Betty (who appears in black and white audition footage and some racy underground movies) and Mike Starr as Bucky's boss. There are also superb cameos from Rose McGowan, Rachel Miner and Britain's own Amanda Rooper.
The film looks incredibly stylish, courtesy of Vilmos Zsigmond's gorgeous photography and DePalma keeps the directorial tricks to an absolute minimum although he can't resist an unnecessarily gruesome bit towards the end.
There are one or two other problems too such as the performance of Fiona Shaw (as Madeleine's bonkers mother), who seems to think she's in a different film to everyone else. There are also a couple of unintentionally laughable sex scenes.
If you're a fan of thrillers set in the 1940s, then The Black Dahlia doesn't disappoint, thanks to stylish direction and strong performances.