The Black Dahlia

When the body of actress Betty Short is found in a ditch, homicide detectives Bucky (Josh Hartnett) and Lee (Aaron Eckhart) investigate.  After watching her last film, they become obsessed with her and finding the killer.  Madeleine (Hilary Swank) and Kay (Scarlett Johansson), two women who put a different spell on the men, add further to the red herrings that threaten to consume them. 
This fictionalised account of a true story makes the most of the smart penmanship of writer James Ellroy.  His craftsmanship of depicting flawed heroes living shadowy existences matches the unique visual style of Director Brian De Palma.  As the two detectives view the victims’ final film, they attempt to find clues in every inch of the frame feeling she is reaching out to them from beyond the grave.  Bucky in particular becomes infatuated with her image whilst attempting to control a desire which will never be satisfied.
Brian De Palma effectively brings to life 1940s era Los Angeles, showing off the clean streets that hide a dark interior.  De Palma’s films have usually paid homage to previous genres with his tribute to crime noir films being a pleasure to watch.  At times, his keen sense of visual trickery does get in the way of telling the story, as the subplot involving Eckert’s character prolongs an already complicated script.  With his films however, there is always a twinkle in his characters’ eyes, allowing the audience to join in the mystery, no matter how absurd it may become.
Josh Hartnett as Bucky continues his growth into mature roles. His character is a newcomer to the police and he not only has to learn to trust his colleagues but also his judgement.  His relationship with Lee becomes sorely tested once the murder case becomes more muddled with each men reacting differently to the strange horrors they face.  Eckhart makes a good foil for Hartnett’s rookie, with Swank and Johansson making for very duplicitous femme fatales. 
The Black Dahlia isn’t a perfect film - the over-acting by some tends to veer the film towards high camp.  The entertainment factor is high however, with various twists being genuinely surprising.  Despite the flaws, the glorious set design and interesting story telling techniques help make this a mystery audiences will want to solve.
Rating out of 10:   7
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Catch A Fire

Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) cares for his family, living a normal life during the era of South African apartheid.  After a bomb blast hits the oil refinery in which he works, Patrick is charged with conspiracy and tortured by the police.  Nic Vos (Tim Robbins), one of the senior ranking policemen, attempts to break Patrick’s spirit.  The ordeal only increases the embers of flame within.  He joins the African National Congress, becoming exactly the type of ‘criminal’ he was accused of being in the first place.
This true story set in the early 1980’s, explores South African white supremism and the dark days of apartheid.  Even though Patrick witnessed the mistreatment of his people, he initially wanted to ‘keep his nose clean’ - avoiding the powderkeg of tension that could explode at any minute.  The actions of Vos and his comrades, finally forced Patrick to stand up for the rights that he felt everyone deserved.  He set about putting a deep chink in the armour of apartheid.  Derek Luke effectively shows the anguish his character felt at not only seeing his family suffer, but also for being forced to take up arms.
As a flipside to Patrick, Tim Robbins as Vos shows a man who appears tired of smothering the growing discontent that would inevitably boil over.  Attempting to out think Patrick, Vos uses any method possible to capture him, making sure all escape routes are sealed.  Whilst being the proud soldier for his government, Vos could see that its’ weakening grip on its subjects allowed more people to become vocal and stand up to its overt racism.  The usually dependable Robbins does his best in an underwritten role that never seems to capture the demons driving the man towards his actions.
Phillip Noyce directs the tightly scripted film with the assured hand of a past master of political thrillers.  The scenes where the police scheme to trap their prey are very chilling, carried out with a dogged efficiency.  One of the messages that comes through is the ability to forgive.  After all the hardship and suffering, the one thing that no amount of torture could erase was the will of the spirit and forgiveness.  This is borne out in an inspiring finale where the real Patrick Chamusso can be seen.  This is one of those rare films where more could have been added, as the story is so compelling. 
The vicious circle of violence that characterised the era is shown, with actions leading to an even worse reaction.  This is an interesting film that could have been more satisfying had the screenplay been more fleshed out.  The journey of the characters and the messages within are moving to watch however, shining a light on South Africa’s recent dark past. 
Rating out of 10:   7