The Black Dahlia (15) <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

In 1947, in Los Angeles, a would-be starlet calledElizabeth Short was found sliced in half and disembowelled; the murderer was never caught, although a plausible identification has recently been suggested. The American novelist James Ellroy used the "Black Dahlia" murder as the jumping-off point for a lurid epic of sexual compulsion, violence, incest, civic corruption and penitential self-loathing - and the first of a quartet of novels that included LA Confidential. Ellroy's stripped-down prose and the tidal rip of emotion swept you past any deficiencies in the plot. No surprise, then, that Brian De Palma has had to tone down and simplify Ellroy; but - especially considering that you've got Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank as the femmes fatales - it is amazing just how dull the result is. Almost every decision that was taken here seems to have been the wrong one, from the casting of the callow, pleasant-looking Josh Hartnett as the sexually repressed cop hero, to the mellow sepia tones overlaying night-time Los Angeles; and the denouement abandons any sense of coherence or plausibility. Wittingly or otherwise, Mark Isham's score recalls that of Jerry Goldsmith for Chinatown - another film about corruption, incest, and the rest, and a comparison they really should have been working hard to avoid.