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Black Dahlia, The


Stars: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Fiona Shaw, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr

Director: Brian De Palma

'Nothing stays buried forever.' So runs a line from Brian De Palma's mostly enjoyable homage to 1940s' Hollywood film noir, in which a horrific murder, with the female victim savagely disfigured, provides the trigger for opening musty old cupboards, out of which tumble all sorts of unsavoury skeletons.

Twisty as it is, you can follow most of the plot, which involves two cops, Bucky and Lee (Hartnett, Eckhart), both ex-boxers. Assigned to the case of The Black Dahlia (the murdered girl), Lee becomes obsessed. He fatally ignores another case, while his girlfriend Kay (Johansson) seems petrified by the imminent release of one Bobby DeWitt, whom Lee sent down.

At the same time, Buddy, who secretly lusts after Kay, finds a lead in the Dahlia affair in the seductive form of Madeleine (Swank), daughter of a distinctly eccentric nouveau riche family.

Porno movies and graphic sex make this more of a modern movie, though there's lots of noir-style camerawork, often shot completely in shades of brown - so much so that you become conscious of the (tiring) effect, as the film at times begins to run like a radio play.

Laconic dialogue, mysteries finally explained and most of the cast killed: it's comfortingly familiar ground for buffs - with serviceable, if uninspired performances.The weakest link is Johansson, here registering as little more than a glamorous blank - with nothing going on behind a glazed look. It's tempting to think that the 'BD' seared into her back was the director trying to get a performance out of her.

David Quinlan

USA 2006. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Technicolor.
121 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 12 Sep 2006