Upon several viewings, The Black Dahlia remains a great, perhaps misunderstood, film. Some of the best directing Brian DePalma ever did is here. It's undeniable that the complexity of Elroy's novel is not accurately mirrored in the silver screen, but then again we're talking about different mediums. And Vilmos Zsigmond is astonishing, capturing in color all of noir's nuances, depth and subtleties.
If it you didn't know it already, you could tell that this was a 3 hour movie cruelly hacked down to 2. I can see why a studio would balk at an epic length, but it's a shame, because it means that some very intriguing ideas about cinema's complicity in violence (and the joy of watching De Palma rewire noir tropes) gets buried under a rushed jumble of names, coincidences, and twists that make little or no sense.
Upon the first viewing, you'll likely either be indifferent to it or loathe it. The second time you'll try to 'understand it' (and fail). The third viewing is when you may realize that somehow you quite like this damn thing. If anything, The Black Dahlia is unique, and like many of De Palma's films, it succeeds not as much in spite of its flaws as it does because of them.
De Palma's most disturbing film, taking all his gifts for expressionistic, Romantic style and basically using them Samson-like to collapse the roof on itself. Doesn't deconstruct noir so much as demolish it.
I'd really like to see the uncut version in this case because it's impossible to summarize this novel with all its subplots in just two hours. The characters's behaviour isn't logical at all here and, unfortunately, the movie never creates the so peculiar mood found in every book written by James Ellroy. As it is, The Black Dahlia is a promising fim seriously ill.
Not only is it not as bad as people claim, it is actually an outstanding film, full of De Palma's technical flourishes. Scarlett Johansson is a bit too wooden in her role, but everything else works for me. Even the sometimes campy nature of the story and acting works in a Twin Peaks-kinda way. Probably my second favorite De Palma film behind only Carlito's Way.
Magnificent cinematography! Unfortunately, DePalma took a cue from his friend George Lucas and taught an otherwise (mostly) great cast how to act badly. This movie is what people mean when they say the book was better...