Two genre exercises: 3:10 to Yuma & The Black Dahlia

Between these two films, 3:10 is undoubtedly the "better" one. It's more coherent, slimmer, it has more complete characterization and plenty inside into people's motivations. It has Christian Bale perfectly cast as a humorless hero, and Russell Crowe naturally as a charismatic and manly villain. And hey, I liked it, was fully engaged by it, and it's a solid piece of genre filmmaking. I just can't really think of much to say about it.

The Black Dahlia, however, is the kind of film I can really get stoked about.

Oh yes, I know, it's a much clumsier, messier movie. Scarlett Johanssen looks perfect in those period costumes, but as soon as she has to move and speak she's awkward and slightly out of place. Aaron Eckhart tries his best, but gets far too little screen time. And not only does Hilary Swank not look a bit like the real Black Dahlia OR like Mia Kirschner, who plays her in screen tests, but she has an inconsistent accent and she overacts the hell out of her femme fatale part.

Still, this movie got a grin to my face, and I enjoyed it immensely. Partly, that's because the parts that are good are great: Mia Kirchner, for instance, who brings real pathos to her victim, but strangely enough also Josh Hartnett, who surprised me by truly embodying his boxer/cop, by overcoming his boyish (and rather bland) exterior. And there is a scene where he meets the Linscott family that'll make you gasp in disbelief: it's so over the top, but it's also hilarious - and more than a little creepy.

I'm not a de Palma convert. He's too much of a showoff, I think, too brash and too cocky. But he DOES love film. Maybe I liked the Black Dahlia so much only by proxy, because through it I was reminded of so many noir favorites. But I liked it, messy as it is, maybe even because of its flaws and not in spite of them.


Paul C. said...

I like The Black Dahlia quite a bit. I acknowledge that there are quite a few issues, but I believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Johansson is a liability for sure- not only is she too modern for the role, but she lacks the flawed, wounded vulnerability that might have made it work. Swank, on the other hand, is somewhat better than her rep. Had DePalma wanted someone who actually looked a lot like Mia Kershner, I'm guessing he would've just given her the double role. Swank's performance is about role-playing, and I think the inconsistent accent fits with that.

As for Hartnett, I thought he was surprisingly pretty right for the part. His version of Bucky is pretty close to the original James Ellroy novel.

cjKennedy said...

I'm not a De Palma convert either, but I liked Dahlia a lot more than just about anyone I know...except maybe now you.

It's a flawed mess, but it's also entertaining as hell if you let it be. I especially liked two of the things you identified: the haunting black and what Mia Kirshner and the family dinner scene.

In the end, I thought it was a little uneven and I almost wish it had flown further off the rails sooner, but there was nothing else quite like it in 2006. That's worth something.

Hedwig said...

I'm glad you both saw the fun of the Black Dahlia. The 35% fresh rating at Rottentomatoes tells me a lot of people didn't.

Also, Craig, I went back and read your review and follow-up on 3:10 to Yuma. I'm not as certain any more there's not much to be said about it!

Chuck said...

I have to admit that I was with the masses regarding Black Dahlia, and I am a De Palma convert. I think the biggest issue is that, if you're going to do the straight up pastige noir, then you better really, really, know your shit, because you're gonna look foolish otherwise. Like most bad De Palma (of which there's plenty) you just have to wonder at what was going through the man's mind. The tone was godawful, a Hallmark Junior High glaze that lumbers along.

The best moment was the same moment everyone else pointed out, where De Palma drops all pretense of story for a few minutes and stages an operatic murder that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie.

But it is an interesting failure Hedwig, and I love it when someone goes to bat for something everyone else disregards.

I'm with you on 3:10, it works and does everything it needs to do, but Mangold's approach is, as usual, fairly impersonal. This thing needs to zig and zag in a few places, it, like Walk the Line, needs some mess.

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