Brian De Palma steers us down some very dark alleys in old school noir The Black Dahlia, but occasionally veers too far into the realms of pastiche. Compared with LA Confidential (both based on novels by James Ellroy), it also lacks momentum and final resounding impact. However, there is a bright side. Josh Hartnett is a surprisingly neat fit for the detective investigating the murder of a would-be starlet in 40s Hollywood and his personal journey is an absorbing one.
De Palma captures all the macabre details of the real-life killing that sparked this fictional tale. Detective 'Bucky' Bleichert (Hartnett) is haunted by the image of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), her body hacked in half, a gruesome smile slashed across her face. He becomes obsessed but his famously cool exterior means that doesn't come across as efficiently onscreen as it does on the page. Nonetheless it's a finely tuned performance from Hartnett, struggling to keep a lid on his emotions.
"ONLY WORKS IN FITS AND STARTS"
Scarlett Johansson stirs more trouble as the flirtatious wife of his partner (Aaron Eckhart), a role she could play in her sleep - or just lying down... Meanwhile Hilary Swank resorts to imitating Katharine Hepburn (a guilty pleasure) as the rotten little rich girl with the scoop on Short's past. Bucky's loyalties are tested as he's pinballed between them and that provides the real intrigue in an otherwise awkward story. It only works in fits and starts and the grand climax is too Rocky Horror to be true, yet the heady redolence of a bygone era still proves seductive.
The Black Dahlia is released in UK cinemas on Friday 15th September 2006.