A ‘black’ day for ‘Hollywood’

Robert Taylor

Adrien Brody puts moviegoers’ nerves in a chokehold in Hollywoodland. PHOTO COURTESY OF FOCUS FEATURES

Credit: Jason Hall

Film noir is defined as black cinema because of its shadows, deep mysteries and dark characters. Heroes don’t always act heroic, villains are suave and seductive and the promise of a happy ending isn’t always assured.

This month that genre of film is coming back in a big way with the release of Hollywoodland and The Black Dahlia, which opens tomorrow, two major studio vehicles with big stars acting as headliners. But while The Black Dahlia represents the first masterpiece of 2006, Hollywoodland is a prime example of how not to make a noir movie.

Let’s talk trash first. Hollywoodland tells the story of the aftermath of the “suicide” of former Superman actor George Reeves and private investigator Adrien Brody’s attempts to prove that it was murder.

The only reason to see this movie is Ben Affleck. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Affleck throws himself into the role of the B-movie actor typecast as a character he isn’t fond of and is unable to break free from. The only times when the movie is watchable are during the flashbacks of his life leading up to his untimely death.

The rest of the film is terrible. The movie becomes obsessed with its mystery before it decides to give the biggest cop-out of an ending possible and dress it up like the movie was supposed to be a character piece all along. By the end, the mystery isn’t that important.

Brody grates on the viewer’s last nerve. First he is supposed to be suave and likable, then within the course of one scene, become a raging boozer who can’t stand up straight. He can’t pull it off and his character’s journey is destroyed as a result.

Perhaps if the movie had more style it would have been watchable. The flashbacks are filmed in the exact same manner as the frame story, and not one shot or moment sticks after the credits roll.

For a movie with both style and substance, look no further than the phenomenal The Black Dahlia. Director Brian De Palma previously directed such masterpieces as The Untouchables, and Scarface, and I would call his newest film their equal. Seriously.

The story is a fictionalized account of the real-life murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short during the ’40s in Hollywood. Her body was mutilated almost beyond comprehension and the mystery surrounding her death caused the downfall of almost all who got involved.

The acting is a revelation. Josh Hartnett gives an Oscar-caliber performance in a role he was born to play as the main investigator of the murder. Again, I can’t believe I’m writing that. Hilary Swank wows as Hartnett’s bisexual lover, who may have gotten some sugar from Elizabeth before she died.

Here is a film that knows how to pack a wallop. It takes its time building its mysteries and characters, with De Palma using the camera to set up the time period and the feeling that anything could happen.

After the murder, Elizabeth’s ghost seems to haunt every frame of the film, watching the characters and causing many of their downfalls. Hartnett’s partner (Aaron Eckhart) becomes obsessed first, medicating himself to soften the pain and ignoring his girlfriend entirely. Hartnett begins to sleep with a woman who looks somewhat like the victim.

The suspense builds like a house of cards and when De Palma begins to bring it down, the viewer is repeatedly blown out of his or her chair. A shootout on the street and a sequence on a staircase should be studied for how to build suspense properly in a motion picture.

The movie is unnerving. The movie is terrifying. The movie is emotional and begs to be seen more than once. If you are a fan of action films, horror films, mysteries or suspense dramas, then you cannot miss this movie. Simple as that.

Contact ALL correspondent Robert Taylor at [email protected].


Starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck

Directed by Allen Coulter

Distributed by Focus Features

Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content

Stater rating (out of five): ??

The Black Dahlia

Starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank

Directed by Brian De Palma

Distributed by Universal Pictures

Rated R for language, strong violence, grisly images and sexual content

Stater rating (out of five): ?????