The problem I faced with "The Black Dahlia" is that, from the outset, it had two things to live up to. Not meeting either of these would result in a review that could never reach overly positive. The two things were a) the source novel, and b) that OTHER James Ellroy novel-film "LA Confidential", which I thought was near flawless. I am afraid to say, that despite my attempt to put these two out my mind as I watched, I felt the need to compare and contrast throughout. And, quite simply, long story short and all, it doesn't meet my high standards.
Oh don't get me wrong, its not by any means rubbish. The spot on performances of Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlet Johanson and Hilary Swank are all very watchable, and indeed the ensemble cast make for a good two hours entertainment. But it simply doesn't grip like the novel, which for me was unputdownable, nor does it have the directorial panache and fizz of LA Confidential. The look of the film doesn't match the film noir style its suited for - it looks TOO much as if it's a film full of actors playing as if they're in the past, as opposed to other film noirs, such as de Palma's previous "Untouchables" which looks as if the actors have been plucked out of their necessary time zones. Whether the fault is down to set design, costume, acting or directing, I don't know, but, importantly, it simply doesn't FEEL genuine enough.
Some of the highlights from the novel make it through - the comment about the dog collecting the paper was a laugh out loud comment in the book, and it is quite rightly kept for the novel.
Also, the denouement seems a bit rushed. When reading the book I remember having ideas about the ending, and who the various bad guys would be. Where as in this, it all seems plumped on the viewer in one fell swoop, giving no sense of satisfaction even if you were wrong in your prediction.
So overall, it's a good entertaining film, but not the classic it should have / could have been.