The Black Dahlia (2006)

(In theaters, October 2006) This film is likely to remind you of two things: First, that there will always be a place for noir in cinema. Second, that Brian de Palma is capable of the best and the worst. There are times where The Black Dahlia works really well: The sequences flow naturally, the historical recreation is credible, Aaron Eckhart square-jaws his way through his tough-guy dialogue, Scarlett Johansen appears on screen, and so on. De Palma can still move his camera like an artist, and some sequences show him at his best. But then there’s the silly stuff, the over-the-top comedy that intrudes on the film, the side tangents that don’t illuminate as much as they grind the film to a halt. Other than Eckhart, the actors all look as if they’re pretending more than acting: Scarlett Johansen is cute but vapid, Hillary Swank can only do femme fatale for seconds at a time and Josh Hartnett sleep-walks his way through another role without showing more than the essential hound-dog emotions. The result feels scattered, but the two scenes of insane family comedy look as if they’ve been clipped from another film, and their impact on the rest of the picture is considerable. What could have been a great film (considering the pedigree of the talent) becomes at best a passable one, and at worst just something to forget.

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