The Black Dahlia

Year: 2006
Production Co: Millenium Films
Studio: Universal
Director: Brian de Palma
Producer: Art Linson
Writer: James Ellroy/Josh Friedman
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner
All style, no substance.

That's been the cry from many a critic over de Palma's return to the big screen.

It's a return to the big screen in more ways than one. Since his glory days of The Untouchables and Scarface his star has been steadily declining in Hollywood, bottoming out in more recent times with Snake Eyes, Mission to Mars and Femme Fatale (which was released straight to video in Australia).

Hollywood film-makers just Love James Ellroy. He wrote about the golden age of Hollywood with all the sights, speech and moods, steeped in film noir and Mickey Spillane-style mysteries with a beautiful broad, a hardnose gumshoe and a conspiracy where nothing is what it seems.

It's also Josh Hartnett's second outing in this kind of movie after the recent The Wrong Man, a role he almost personifies apart from his prettiness holding him back somewhat.

Based around the real life slaughter of an aspiring starlet, in which the poor girl was so brutally drawn and quartered it seems more at home in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , Hartnett and Eckhart are a pair of brooding voiceover-type plods who both become obsessed with the case in their own way.

With two beautiful women coming between them (Mia Kirshner as the victim, the ubiquitous Scarlett Johansson as Eckhart's Stanwyckian girlfriend), it's all hats pulled down low, hidden agendas, home-rolled cigarettes and skewed shadows falling across grubby crime scenes.

It's fairly bloody for a nourish mystery, and criticisms of style over substance are somewhat warranted, but the style is what this genre is all about. De Palma nearly reaches his old heights again, but with the film a flop so far, it looks like he might get another chance to try.

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