The Black Dahlia

Murder. Sex. Madness. Greed. What's not to love, right? But this adaptation of James Ellroy's hard-boiled mystery has a hard time boiling down all the characters, crimes and corruption, and it ends up overcooked--but lushly lensed.

By Matt Stevens Sep 15, 2006 7:00 AMTags

Ex-boxers Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett work as detectives in late-1940s Los Angeles. They become best buds on the beat, and the twosome teeters on a threesome as Hartnett gets hot for Eckhart's dame, Scarlett Johansson. But then there's a split, literally, with the murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), who's cut in half, disemboweled and other nasty stuff.

Obsessive Eckhart goes wacko over the brutal killing, while Hartnett investigates Short's shady past, which involves stag films and countless affairs. Her former lovers include heiress Hilary Swank, who resembles the deceased starlet and goes about seducing Hartnett in order to protect her own dark secrets.

Black looks beautiful, with sumptuous production design and gorgeously composed shots by veteran cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. Hartnett and Johansson are also easy on the eyes, but neither can match Eckhart's intensity or Swank's smolder. Kirshner proves haunting as Short, seen mostly in screen tests, and the film would have profited from delving more deeply into her story.

Unfortunately, director Brian De Palma pushes the pic's tone too far, especially in the last act, allowing the bizarre revelations and over-the-top performances to veer into camp territory. In the end, stylish Dahlia gets bludgeoned with De Palma melodrama.