Friday, November 21, 2008


On the advice of my cousin, I read James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia. It is a fictionalized account of the infamous Black Dahlia murder in 1947.

In a nutshell, on January 15th, 1947, the body of Elizabeth Short was found naked and cut in half in an LA park. The body was severely mutilated and the blood had been drained from the body. It was a gruesome murder that captivated the country at the time and to this day, remains unsolved.

Ellroy's novel, and subsequently the movie adaptation, follows the lives of
Bucky Bleichert (who's perspective the story is told through), his partner Lee Blanchard, Kay Lake, and Madeleine Sprague (Linscott in the movie). The story isn't so much about solving the crime as it is about how the crime affects their lives.

The book is great. It's a captivating story full of ups and downs and twists and turns. I highly recommend it to anyone. The movie...well, it might be okay if you've never read the book. I get that things change when a book gets adapted to a movie. The ending changes slightly, parts get dropped for time and pacing. I'm okay with that. There are two problems here though. One is that the omissions make The Black Dahlia into a rather bland, pedestrian movie with a myriad of pacing problems. Skipping over huge plot points and character development to get the movie to come in at 2 hours just causes problems in the end product. We're talking a story that takes place over the course of years presented in a way that it could have happened over the course of a week. Of course this is going to lead to problems. When you have no sense of the time that's passing, it just feels weird.

The second problem is that all of the actors are wrong for the parts. I read The Black Dahlia knowing that there was a movie made from it but without knowing who was in it or what parts they played. There may as well have not been a movie at that point. You know how it is when you read a book though. If it's a book that was made into a movie and you've seen the movie, you picture those people in their parts. Their voices speak in your mind. And, when you don't have that, well, you're mind makes it up for you. While all of the main actors are certainly capable and generally good, they were just the wrong people for the roles. If Hartnett and Eckhart changed roles, maybe I would have liked it a bit more. If Johansson were a little older, she would have been fine. And, well, Swank just seemed wrong for the role altogether.

Like I said, the movie started off at a disadvantage because of my love of the book. I was genuinely excited to see the movie though. I wanted to like it. Too much of what I enjoyed about the book was just missing from the movie. Again, maybe if I hadn't read the book, I would have liked it a bit more. Then again...maybe not.


Anonymous said...

Well, I didn't read the book, but I was highly disappointed in the movie. I watch alot of trutv (court tv when the movie came out) and they had tons of things out so I was excited about the movie, but I just couldn't care about it.

Unknown said...

The book was really good. You should read it. It makes a lot more sense (not that that is much of a challenge)