What is it about unsolved murders that grip us? Is it the possibility that the killer is still out there? For whatever reason is we love a good mystery. But few deaths have permeated our culture as the death of Elizabeth Short has. As such it was the perfect topic for respected crime writer, James Elroy, to tackle in his next book. Considering also the success of previous adaptation, L.A. Confidential, it made even more sense to bring that story to. In 2006, the story of the Black Dahlia came back to the cinemas.
Two boxers, Bucky and Lee, known locally Fire & Ice, are a credit to the L.A.P.D. after their service in the Zoot Suit riots. Both are best friends and partners. With Lee girlfriend Kay in tow, they become an inseparable trio, but when a young aspiring actress is found brutally bisected. The two detectives go down a dark hole of corruption and death that could cost them dearly.
The Elizabeth Short murders have been depicted throughout the years. With various fictional or larger-than-life characters being held responsible over the years. The Black Dahlia, of course, has its own scandalous theories about the reasons behind her demise. And all will be revealed in a crescendo of dishonour. But the crime is only one part of this tangled web as other gangsters, stolen money, and, of course, murder. Taking on the pseudo-eponymous role of Elizabeth Short is Mia Kirshner, who depicts her with such hope and dreams that it makes the events even more unbearable to comprehend. Along with Arron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, and Josh Hartnett, The Black Dahlia is filled with striking performances.
The 1940s have been depicted here with such accuracy that you feel like you’ve stepped through a time machine. At other times it feels like looking at moving Jack Vettriano painting. A lot of this is through the added sepia effect that only adds to this feeling. Alongside some more typical flourishes from Brian De Palma makes the entire film an impressive spectacle to watch.
With its sordid stories, scandalous secrets and a slice of life of America at the time, The Black Dahlia lives up to the overbearing weight of having to follow L.A. Confidential. Using the crime as a springboard into a romanticised period’s darkest moments. The Black Dahlia is a sensational account of a sensational incident, and it makes sense for such a shocking L.A. crime to get such a cinematic L.A. treatment.
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