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The Black Dahlia (2006)

The Black Dahlia is sure to baffle and bewilder audiences everywhere on both sides of the spectrum (that is, to say, in ways perceived as both good and bad), and I’m sure Brian De Palma wouldn’t have it any other way. An adaptation of a fictionalized novel about a real-life Hollywood murder, the film has been shamefully marketed by industry whores as the next L.A. Confidential, and all I can say is it’s damn shame. The ilk of this film is nothing of the sort, genre overlap notwithstanding, and it’s hard to blame viewers expecting a more straightforward crime drama when they enter theaters. Instead, The Black Dahlia is a rampantly overwrought round of genre upheaval, equally indebted to its cinematic predecessors as it is to its director’s wonderfully obtuse visual sleight of hand. “Cocktail” is the only word that comes to mind when attempting to describe the mixture of classic noir and mystery elements with deliberate overdoses of campy magnification. The film harkens back to classic expressionism via its three main characters’ attendance at a screening of The Man Who Laughs, fitting, for like that film’s main character (a deformed carnival worker whose face is forever frozen in an eerie grin), The Black Dahlia is a film largely concerned with the nature of surface appearances, reveling in its self-imposed limitations within a world of pure cinema. The cast is almost equally excellent across the board (particularly Scarlett Johansson, who hits the archetype nail most directly on the head), although many will mistake their intentional embodiment of caricatures as flat-out wooden acting. It’s necessary to approach The Black Dahlia with these expectations if one is to experience the film on its own merits, but this is not all to say the film is without its downfalls. Visually, this is one of Brian De Palma’s most refined films yet (his swooping camera motions are both grand in scope and smooth in execution), yet his sense of reckless abandon seems to lose its track during the final act with a considerable drop in energy following suit. Perhaps the source material demanded this unfortunate muting, but either way, one can’t but think The Black Dahlia could have gone out with at least as strong of a bang as it starts.