The Black Dahlia (2006)

“The Black Dahlia” (2006)


The problem with thick plots and cinematic vision

I give Brian De Palma a high place in my list of worthy filmmakers. That means whatever he does, i will want to watch, even if it will eventually disappoint me. That is because he has a very personal and highly cinematic way to watch things and to tell stories, and he always starts from that So, i disagree to the opinion of many cinema buffs who dismiss De Palma for being a ‘xerox’ of several other filmmakers styles. I think he, yes, always denotes his influences, as clear as water, but in the end they all come filtered by his magnificent cinematic exploring way of seeing. And i emphasize on this last word, since with De Palma it’s all about seeing… HOW, more than WHAT.

Having said this, i see this one as a minor project. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching, but it’s worse than an average De Palma project and miles from his highest moments. I’ve seen him do better with worse material. And i mean ‘worse’ or ‘better’ in relation to what suits better the director’s style. The problem here seems to be the extreme complexity of the plot, which instead of getting simplified to bring out the visual complex movements he enjoys, gets more and more thick. De Palma needs the audience to be elucidated enough about the plot to enjoy his visual work (that because by default the average audience won’t give up following the story, and place it always in front the more deep and specific cinematic elements).

This will easily be correlated to Chinatown and LA Confidential and naturally assume itself as a “neo noir” or other strange name you may want to call it. Noir developed around characters who acted in the dark, driven by coincidence or fate, or both, anyway, always force superior to themselves who out-passed them. Here, placed above that traditional conception, we have the god camera, and one memorable shot, which i relate (there go the influences) with the initial shot of Welles’ Touch of Evil. That shot happens in scene where the body of the wannabe actress is found and a gunshot takes place. This is space exploitation, performed by an eye which is allowed everything, sees alone what all characters summed see. This is the best cinematic moment of the film, more closed to what De Palma likes, and worth alone a good analysis.

The other reference that came to my mind had to do with the folding in Sunset Boulevard. This was a fantastic example of how to construct a multi layered story, a masterpiece in screen writing; and it held a film inside a film, Gloria Swanson’s youth project, directed by Stroheim, which was watched by their respective characters in Sunset Blvd. Here we don’t have that symbolisms, nor the intention of that, but we have a film which drives the plot, and creates a very interesting character which never shows alive except for those pieces of celluloid (Mia Kirshner’s character) and teaches us (aswell as our noir detective) stuff we want to know. Even the madness of Fiona Shaw’s character (performed with special importance near a stairway, remember Sunst Bld?) reports to a correlation between the two pictures. i recently watched Antonioni’s “Profession: Reporter” and i believe that in the Italian’s picture, the “film within the film” had a similar effect to what de palma does here.

This and an interesting inversion of roles that makes the “femme fatale” a brunette (Swank) instead of the common blond (which would be Johanson) are the good elements. The weak link between the thick plot and De Palma’s will to search freely for stuff and move with more freedom (remember Blow Out) is the main flaw and its consequence is that the film almost never engages us, almost always fails to through at you elements that justify De Palma’s beautiful shots.

My evaluation: 3/5

This comment on IMDb


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