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Review

‘Black Dahlia’ still an unsolved mystery

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September 21, 2006

The Black Dahlia murder is the most famous, unsolved murder in California history.  The real story couldn’t have been scripted better — a young girl moves out to Hollywood to become a star (she was beautiful), doesn’t make it (but making some porn is close), and ends up naked and gutted like a deer in the middle of suburbia (nice rack!). 

I just wish the movie could have been written half as well.

The title of the film is perhaps a bit misleading.  Although the two main cops, played by Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart, are investigating the murder, no real depth is put into the life of Elisabeth Short (the woman they call the Black Dahlia).  Simply stated, the film is not so much about her. 

Lee (Eckhart) tries to get even with other bad guys and launders money while Bucky (Hartnett) is having sex with bisexual rich women.  Seriously, it seemed like every 15 minutes, or whenever he was having a hard time, he went and tagged Madeleine (Hillary Swank).  The Dahlia is only one case that they deal with, so it was hard to see what everything else had to do with the infamous death.

The dialogue was very colorful and a lot of old cop lingo was used.  In one scene, Swank says to Hartnett, “Got the picture?” And he replies, “Technicolor.”  That is just so sexy.  I wish I could come up with such cool things to say at the drop of a hat.  But the actors should have let the words do their job.  Not everything needed to be overacted. 

Actress Scarlett Johannson was really the worst perpetrator of this.  Her character, Kay Lake, was Lee’s gold-digging girlfriend who was secretly jonesing for Hartnett.  But her demeanor was not that of a mysterious 1940s beauty — she was Katherine Hepburn with deer-in-headlight eyes.

I got lost between the police shoot-outs and clips of the Dahlia’s screen tests.  Those scenes were the most engaging because they were creepy, yet stunning.  I didn’t feel that way about the rest of the movie.  The flow and logic just weren’t there. 

It is a bad idea for directors and writers to assume that their audience is stupid — not every detail needs to be explained for us to make the connection between the characters and the story.  However, if they don’t set up the basics, the point is lost and that’s when we begin to wonder if the movie was worth our $10. 

I knew before I watched this film that it was a fictional rendering of a possible scenario.  But it was so outlandish and ridiculous that I didn’t get it.  Madeleine looked like the Dahlia, and there were some jealousy issues and her parents were crazy, but why did they have to disembowel the girl and cut her face up?  The explanation of the family’s relationship to Short was not clear, and I think two and a half hours is plenty of time to get it across.

If I were you, I would see this movie twice, and not just for Josh Hartnett’s smooth, naked body.

Jenna is a junior studying journalism and music history. She enjoys watching dark comedy movies.

Jenna Lee is a student at UW-River Falls.