The Black Dahlia


Mixed or average reviews - based on 35 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 9 out of 35
  2. Negative: 5 out of 35

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Critic Reviews

  1. 91
    Hartnett and co-star Scarlett Johansson--that most fatale of current filmic femmes--are naturals for this kind of noir-hued material, but the pairing of Ellroy and De Palma proves a marriage made in hardboiled heaven.
  2. There are some virtuoso moments (the discovery of the mutilated corpse is extremely well done and blessedly ungraphic), but overall the result is much less than prime De Palma.
  3. The second half feels heavy and unfulfilled, potential greatness reduced to a good movie plagued with problems.
  4. 70
    Although the action set pieces are impressive, the exposition is sluggish. For all the posh dollies, high angles, and Venetian-blind crisscross patterns, The Black Dahlia rarely achieves the rhapsodic (let alone the delirious).
  5. The film is more than a little in love with the corruption it finds under the floorboards -- and that, of course, is perfectly dandy. I wouldn't trust a film noir that wasn't enthralled by decadence.
  6. 67
    De Palma's direction shines, but noir script doesn't match his gifts.
  7. Reviewed by: Ethan Alter
    You've got to give the guy (De Palma) some credit. He's made a bizarre, baffling and at times flat-out bad movie. But at least it's rarely boring.
  8. The film's atmosphere is incendiary. It has style to burn. But for the most part, the performances are all wet.
  9. 63
    If this overcooked version of James Ellroy’s novel - inspired by a famous 1947 Los Angeles murder - is less than fully satisfying or even believable storytelling and acting, it’s still possible to get a kick out of this fever dream loaded with eye candy.
  10. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    "Chinatown" it ain't, not in any department. On its own level, however, new pic generates a reasonable degree of intrigue.
  11. 60
    Swank's character and her performance are good enough to merit a movie of their own, instead of serving as fourth wheel to this lifeless ménage à trois.
  12. Reviewed by: Adam Smith
    Gorgeously realised, gripping and doused in De Palma’s familiar technical wizardry, this is only let down by the director’s equally familiar uninterest in the humanity of his characters.
  13. 58
    The Black Dahlia has sparks of brilliance, swaths of dark intensity, unpredictable crackles of wit, some solid acting. But it's chiefly flat and ambling and dull, insufficient in musculature and overripe with melodrama.
  14. Wall Street Journal
    Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    The production certainly looks sumptuous, and certifies Mr. Hartnett as a mainstream movie star. But the script is frequently impenetrable, the pacing is ponderous, and the film noir style can't conceal a crucial piece of misconceived casting.
  15. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    The Black Dahlia captivates with its dark style. But as with the particulars of the yet-unsolved case, the movie is frustratingly convoluted. What it accomplishes with its stunning cinematography and set design is undercut by a lack of coherence.
  16. The Black Dahlia, looks so terrific and is filled with so many imaginatively showy sequences and masterful directorial touches that you almost don't notice that, in every other way, it's just not a very good movie.
  17. A few scenes are worth the price of admission for their inspired camp alone; Shaw happens to be in two of them.
  18. 50
    Beautifully crafted, intricately plotted and obviously a labor of love. It is also a mess.
  19. 50
    Director Brian De Palma will probably take the rap for this tepid noir, but the real culprits are Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson, red-hot lovers in life but (as ever) gorgeous stiffs on-screen.
  20. The world of The Black Dahlia is beyond bleak, beyond film noir.
  21. 50
    The first thing you notice about this so-so adaptation of James Ellroy's novel is the shoddy acting.
  22. In writer Josh Friedman and director Brian de Palma's attempts to condense the book's convulsively odd final chapters, they've created an even loonier melodrama.
  23. 50
    The plot has been greatly streamlined from Ellroy's book, but even so, it isn't any clearer, and the ending, convoluted and barely believable, hits with a thud.
  24. Film noir is a style, but self-conscious film noir is just a stylistic tic, less a genre than an ailment. And The Black Dahlia has got a really bad case -- this thing is so mannered it convulses.
  25. 50
    The sloppiness of the ending doesn't only damage The Black Dahlia, it sinks the project.
  26. 50
    Looks and flows great, dripping with the 1940s crime-thriller atmosphere that James Ellroy described in his 1987 novel. On other levels -- plot (overstuffed), suspense (muted), acting (Hilary Swank as a femme fatale? Please!), posing (Scarlett Johansson plays dress-up as a mini Lana Turner), sex (it's all before and after) -- the movie is a bust.
  27. 40
    The picture is a kind of fattened goose that's been stuffed with goose-liver pâté. It's overrich and fundamentally unsatisfying.
  28. It's a stilted thing--overstylized and inexpressive, like high-school kids playing dress-up, or bad Kabuki.
  29. Mr. De Palma can be a director of dazzling creative lunacy, but there's little craziness in this restrained, awkward film. With the diverting exception of Hilary Swank, who plays a slinky degenerate named Madeleine Linscott, the leads are disastrous.
  30. Here's the lowdown, the q.t., the true gen: The Black Dahlia is a big nowhere.
  31. Doesn't provoke bittersweet inquiries regarding one poor actress' grisly fate. Nor does it stir up much provocation on the matter of why, as a popular audience, we're still taken with this lurid symbol of sex and dread and desire. Rather, the movie raises a much simpler question: Huh?
  32. A ludicrous mishmash undermined by ghastly performances and a hopelessly convoluted screenplay.
  33. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    Even when engineering a howler like this, De Palma does it in such high style, with such a confident swagger, that the movie is half over before you realize how little is there.
  34. 30
    It looks stylish, sure, but the script is laughable and the acting is ridiculous.
  35. 30
    Forty-five minutes in, I was already glancing at my watch and wondering why the only lively actress in this film was playing the dead girl. Go figure.
User Score

Generally unfavorable reviews- based on 181 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 9 out of 75
  2. Negative: 58 out of 75
  1. Apr 24, 2011
    As Of Now (4/24/11) I Have No Clue Why The User Score Is So Low.. This Is A Good Movie Overall. Yes I Can Say Some Spots Arent The Best.. ButAs Of Now (4/24/11) I Have No Clue Why The User Score Is So Low.. This Is A Good Movie Overall. Yes I Can Say Some Spots Arent The Best.. But It Is A A+ Effort... Rose McGowan Does A Great Job.. The Acting Was OK... I Loved The Writing/Plot.. Overall 8! Full Review »
  2. TimR.
    Jul 7, 2007
    I seemed to be the only person giving this a good review. I loved this film for the vintage noir feel it had to it and i thought it to be I seemed to be the only person giving this a good review. I loved this film for the vintage noir feel it had to it and i thought it to be well acted and engaging. However i thought the ending left something to be desired and ultimately lacked the strength the rest of the movie had. In any case i enjoyed it. Full Review »
  3. JamesA.
    Jul 5, 2007
    This movie would be worse than our Home Video. Dont waste time!!