Thursday, November 09, 2006
I had a free afternoon today, so went to catch a bargain screening of Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia at the West End's only real second-run venue these days, the wonderfully (and, for this movie, aptly) disreputable Prince Charles Cinema. With its voluminous red curtains, upwardly sloping floor and old-fashioned instruction that patrons might want to contemplate shutting the hell up for the next two hours, the Prince Charles fosters a sense of hushed, dirty occasion even at 3.15pm on a cold and darkening Thursday, and it's one that this much puzzled-over movie met deliciously. I like the fact that I like The Black Dahlia, quite a lot — I like the fact that I'm not supposed to. No one could argue that De Palma's film was more satisfying, shapely or in any conventional way better than Curtis Hanson's LA Confidential, but I think I could have a good stab at positing it as a truer, more faithful distillation of James Ellroy's prose, in that's it's sleazy, not classy, jagged not smooth, and that, not to put too fine a point on it, large chunks of the thing simply don't add up. In all the ways that Hanson and Brian Helgeland's screenplay for the earlier film "improves" on Ellroy, I think they're also doing him a vague disservice, and it's one which De Palma, like the scuzzball voyeur he is, intuitively rectifies.
The truth is, though there have been several (not many) better American movies this year, there have been very few which not only warrant but actively demand a second viewing like this does, and many of the things that might have failed to work for you first time round simply don't matter on a return visit. I still don't get the whole business with Blanchard's ill-gotten gains at the end, for instance, perhaps because De Palma's direction (or my attention) were at their least focused on both viewings when major plot points were being wrapped up, but who cares? Of the lead quartet, only Scarlett Johansson strikes me as completely wrong for her part, I still have a whole load of time for the faintly affected stylings of Hilary Swank, whose peculiar look and accent could only belong in this movie, and Josh Hartnett's weary, sexy, inwardly and outwardly scarred embodiment of Bucky Bleichert is not only easily his best work to date but my pick for the most underrated male performance of the year. It's telling how much of Mark Isham's propulsive score is cued directly into tiny movements of Hartnett's face — he can blink, without a word, and send the film barreling down whole new avenues of intrigue on a hunch. I need hardly add that Fiona Shaw and Mia Kirshner continue to amaze in small parts of such rich, distinct colouration that it felt like going back in to watch them carry on those performances rather than repeat them. All told, whatever, it's still a mess of a movie in some crucial ways, but I think it's a good mess. A fine mess. I stand by my original grade and then some. B
PS. Do comment. Who else has seen a movie twice this year and what changed?