This is not a review of The Black Dahlia. It can't be. I haven't seen it yet. But as my faithful reader or two know, I've been almost as obsessed with this movie to the same degree as Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard become consumed with learning about the poor, late Betty Short. The reason is simple, as I've stated ad nauseam already: the James Ellroy novel upon which this Brian De Palma film is based has long been one of my all-time favorite reads. Having not read it for many years, I'm revisiting it right now, but with a busy week under my belt, I'm not finished yet. So I will withhold my own determination of whether De Palma has returned from filmmaking hack status to his own former creative genius self for the first time this century probably on Monday.
Still, I can't help but notice that as the major reviews roll out today, the film described by the likes of Manohla Dargis, I first started considering De Palma at the helm of the film and, even more upsetting, his obscene casting choices.
I place absolutely no faith whatsoever in metacritic scores, and reading the reviews that contribute to this film's current 54 only enhances that feeling. I also, as I have mentioned often, don't put any value in the opinion of EW's Owen Gleiberman, but the 67 and green/positive attributed to him by metacritic doesn't sound much like the actual tepid reaction he seemed to have to the picture, B- EW grade or otherwise. The thing all these critics seem to note in common is that De Palma has once again substituted style for substance, creating some beautiful visual moments, but overall leaving an overstylized shell with a nearly incomprehensible story underneath. Dargis and Edelstein, like Variety's Todd McCarthy a couple weeks ago, also pay particular attention to the heavily flawed performances, particularly that of emotional siphon Josh Hartnett. Oh well ... again, I still haven't seen it myself, but "I told you so" is seeming like it might be a good headline.
A college buddy of mine who wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin with me back in the early '90s and currently still sits in my old cubicle with my old extension at E!, was as big (if not an even bigger) Ellroy and Black Dahlia fan than I. I turned him on to the novel when the final novel in Ellroy's "L.A. Quartet" -- "White Jazz" was first released. He became, briefly at least, almost as obsessed with the Dahlia case as Ellroy, spending lots of time researching the real case via books and newspaper articles. He even started corresponding with Ellroy, chatting with him once or twice.
The other day, my friend, who we'll call Greg because -- well, that's his real name! -- IMed me the following: "An absolutely horrific disaster." I actually had no idea what he was talking about, but then he told me he had just seen The Black Dahlia the day before. Meanwhile, you should also know that Greg has long been a De Palma apologist, a huge fan of the filmmakers -- again, even bigger than I used to be -- who thought this was the movie that would really bring him back. But with Black Dahlia, "Three great set-pieces and then nothing else there."
Oh well ... maybe all this negative reaction will lower my expectations even further, and suddenly after the weekend, you'll return to this space and find a glowing review of how much better the film is than I expected and how Hartnett really is the next Russell Crowe.
Then again ... probably not.