Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy’s other dark places

Doing what he does best, Ellroy combines reality with his fiction in large, violent doses on the screen; this adaptation of his bestseller successfully recreates L.A just after WW2. Two fighters – Fire and Ice (Hartnett and Eckhart) fight it out in the ring and then become partners in fighting crime. The Black Dahlia ( 121 minutes) goes over one of the most notorious unsolved murders in America; the grizzly killing of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner).

As a film, it works as well as Ellroy’s novel – the language is too authentic for European ears, or for Americans under the age of 50, and the plot is intricate and difficult to follow. It’s a great film for all that and doesn’t pander to the blatant tastes of populist cinema – no car chases or shoot outs that rely on computer graphics for effect. Just a well told tale illustrating the ills of America, California, L.A., and Hollywood in particular.

The film centres around Hollywood wannabes and the riff-raff that come between them and fame – the graft, well known names – Mack Sennett is named in connection with what we now call scams in the building of Hollywood.

And there was Fiona Shaw as the crazed wife of the Scottish millionaire building magnate. Fiona Shaw as Ramona Linscott, the person who did murder Short – Ramona the insane, the crazed, mad with jealousy, who coolly puts a silver pistol in her mouth and pulls the trigger. Shaw gave as convincing, and as frightening a portrayal of a psychopath as it has ever been my misfortune to see on the silver screen. She was the stuff nightmares are made of.

Hillary Swank was equally convincing as the manipulative, murderous, pathetic daughter, Madeleine, clinging to Bucky (Hartnett) as the horrors unfolded.

And there was the audience, who, mostly not having read Ellroy’s book, or else having tried to read it and put it down as a genre they couldn’t hack, left the theatre in a sort of limbo – feeling they had watched something memorable, but not being able to recall just why it was so.
Robert L. Fielding


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