The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: Universal Studios - 2006
MPAA Rating: R
Feature running time: 122 minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Video Aspect: 2.35:1
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Starring: John Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Brian DePalma
Music by: Mark Isham
Written by: Josh Friedman based on the novle by James Elroy
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: September 7, 2010
"Inspired by the most notorious unsolved murder in California history"
From the acclaimed director of Scarface and the author of L.A. Confidential comes the spellbinding thriller The Black Dahlia. Two ambitious cops, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), investigate the shocking murder of an aspiring young starlet. With a corpse so mutilated that photos are kept from the public, the case becomes an obsession for the men, and their lives begin to unravel. Blanchard’s relationship with his girlfriend, Kay (Scarlett Johansson), deteriorates, while Bleichert finds himself drawn to the enigmatic Madeleine (Hilary Swank), a wealthy woman with a dark and twisted connection to the victim.
The Black Dahlia is based on the novel of the same name by James Elroy. It is a fictionalized story that revolves around an actual unsolved murder case that took place in Los Angeles in 1947. The plot follows LAPD detectives Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Eckhart), who are part of a warrant investigation squad and become attached to the notorious Elizabeth Short murder investigation. Elizabeth Short was a budding young actress whose brutally mutilated body was found in a field. Blanchard is the more seasoned officer while Bleichert is the younger and less experienced. The two men are close friends with Bucky frequently spending off duty time with Lee and his live in girlfriend Kay (Johansson). Prior to the murder Bucky and Lee spend much of their time chasing down active warrants and have gained notoriety in the local media. Bucky secretly has a crush on Kay but never and would never let on out of respect for his partner. After Lee saves Bucky from a bullet during an exchange of gunfire with a perp wanted in connection with a case their working he feels even more allegiance to him.
After the discovery of Elizabeth’s body the district attorney requests that Bucky and Lee be attached to the investigation. Bucky gets a lead on a woman, Madeline Linscott (Swank), that may have associated with Elizabeth. He tracks her down and discovers that she bears an uncanny likeness to Elizabeth. Lee becomes obsessed with the murder case and spends long hours pouring over the leads/information surrounding the case. He essentially cuts himself off from Kay and has little interaction with Bucky who continues to work on the Madeline connection. Kay expresses concern to Bucky when she learns that her ex-boyfriend Bobby Dewitt is being released from prison after doing 10 years on a robbery rap. There is a connection between Lee and Bobby that Bucky doesn’t quite understand and Lee and Kay aren’t letting on. In the meantime Bucky gets closer to Madeline and begins to discover a few of the facts (some disturbing) associated with her connection to Elizabeth. Kay contacts Bucky and tells him that Bobby is out of prison and is in town planning a drug deal which is to go down at local hotel. He rushes to the hotel to find Lee’s motorcycle parked out back. He draws his gun and enters the hotel. What follows will lead Bucky to the discoveries that will unravel the mysterious chain of events that have transpired, including the identity of Elizabeth Short’s killer. In order to solve the case he will need to look in the most unlikely of places and learn to trust no one.
As someone who is drawn to films based upon real life stories I was curious about The Black Dahlia after seeing the trailer. Unfortunately its critical reception didn’t inspire confidence so I passed on seeing it in the theater. When I recently saw that it was being released on Blu-ray I requested a copy for review. Listening to author James Elroy discuss his inspiration for the book I understand his personal connection to the murder of Elizabeth Short. Outside of that he has a deeply rooted interest in the LAPD, particularly during the era referenced in the book which definitely comes through in his writing. The sensationalized Black Dahlia case is used as a backdrop for his fictional story and the integration of the core characters works well within its context. I like the development of the relationship between Bucky and Lee as well as the potentially destructive closeness between the two of them and Kay. The introduction of Madeline is a necessary link to the Dahlia however the connection doesn’t seem to hold water which appeared to be intentional in order to maintain an air of mystery. The Bobby DeWitt/Kay/Lee subplot is carefully stoked through the first two acts and has excellent promise. To that point the film succeeds at drawing us in with a dark, foreboding story that entices with mystery, intrigue, thrills and the hope of a satisfying payoff. Unfortunately the third act fizzles and fails to solidify the well laid foundation established by the multifaceted plot. A film like this lives or dies by the strength of its conclusion and this left me shaking my head. The demystified finale is improbable, silly and fails to live up to the earlier described elements that compelled my interest. I think it’s a shame because this is a beautifully shot period piece that features a capable cast and the right director in Brian DePalma. If you can live with the film’s daft and insufficient finish then The Black Dahlia is a decent mystery/thriller.
The rating is for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
The Black Dahlia comes to Blu-ray Disc from Universal HE featuring 1080p VC-1 encoded video that has an average bitrate of 30 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 3.3 Mbps.
This high definition video presentation looks great and features a distinctive visual aesthetic that utilizes a reserved chromatic palette which makes use of sepia tones and muted primaries. This along with the application of filtering/lighting provides the period style look the filmmakers were striving for. Certain sequences make bolder use of color with noticeably deeper saturation. Contrast and brightness are well balanced which results in distortion free and satisfying image quality. Blacks appear deep and punchy but delineation in low level scenes is just average. Flesh tones are a bit on the bland side but retain enough complexional variety to avoid appearing lifeless. Close ups offer appreciable texture and subtle refinement. Wide angle shots, especially those shot in the natural light of day, have excellent depth, with sharp resolute definition quality that is rarely questionable. I didn’t notice any signs of compression or video related artifacts.
This Lossless DTS-HD MA surround mix accents the video presentation and makes regular use of the entire system to drive the film’s elements. This is a well balanced and active soundtrack that features deep resonating bass that reaches far into the room to augment the dynamic impact associated with the films action based elements and music score. The surround channels are actively engaged with a blend of discretely placed sounds and spatial ambience that fills the room. Extended dynamic range combines with the high level of sonic detail present in the recording and makes for an involving and theater like experience. The detection of subtle vocal inflections or the presence of low level sounds contained within the recording is never a problem. The mix facilitates seamless integration of the front and rear channels which creates a stable and well proportioned listening environment. This is a superlative soundtrack that probably made this film a little more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.
- Reality and fiction: The story of the Black Dahlia - 11 minute documentary
- The case file - 20 minute behind the scenes/making of feature
- The DePalma touch - 17 minute featurette
- D-Box motion code enabled
- BD-Live enabled
The Black Dahlia is a film adaptation of the novel by James Elroy which is based upon one of the most horrific and sensationalized murder cases in California history. The film’s first two acts succeed at drawing us into 1940’s Los Angeles and the story’s dark, foreboding narrative that entices with mystery, intrigue, thrills and the hope of a satisfying payoff. Unfortunately the third act fizzles and fails to deliver a satisfying finale as dictated by the strength and complexity of the multifaceted plotline. The film isn’t without merit and can be enjoyable especially if you go in with expectations of a meager denouement. On a positive note its presentation on Blu-ray Disc from Universal Studios Home Entertainment doesn’t disappoint as it looks and sounds terrific. The bonus supplements include a documentary on the real Black Dahlia murder case, and making of featurette and a production/promo piece on director on Brian DePalma. If you’re a genre fan I think that The Black Dahlia’s basis upon real life events plus the quality of its high definition presentation make it a worthwhile rental so feel free to toss it in your queue and take it for a spin.
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