So now that the first photos of Brian de Palma’s The Black Dahlia are circulating (caution: at least one of these is a graphic autopsy photo), it’s time for PopWatch to do what it does best: make a snap judgment.
For some, Dahlia is one of those sacred texts: the quintessential postwar L.A. mystery from the quintessential contemporary L.A. mystery writer, James Ellroy. So how are you gonna please everyone? You’re not. And if you’re Brian DePalma, trying to shake the stink of Femme Fatale, you shouldn’t even try: Just make like an Ellroy man and go with your gut. DePalma’s gut said "Josh Hartnett." So there.
Okay, so Hartnett is always going to look a little adolescent. These pictures don’t suggest any different. But there’s something blocky about our boy here — or maybe it’s just the testosterone-tinged texture of the images, which look very Untouchables — that suggest he might just make a horseshoes-and-hand-grenades fit as our hero, Bucky Bleichert, a dented ex-prizefighter who’s smarter — but also softer — than he looks. Me, I might’ve gone Brendan Fraser (and reaped another whirlwind of criticism); I think he might hold up better against Aaron Eckhart’s Lee Blanchard, Bleichert’s partner, rival, and brother-in-arms (you know, the "Russell Crowe role"). But this is a role where Hartnett’s inscrutable vulnerability might work for him.
Scarlett Johannson as Kay Lake, the boys’ mutual fascination? Well, her smolder will be put to good use in the slow burn between Kay and Bleichert, but… well, am I crazy, or does she seem more like a Madeline? The pansexual, daddy’s-girl, bed-hopper will instead be assayed by Hilary Swank. Clearly, the casting director decided to put Swank’s edge to work on Madeline and reserve Johannson’s soft curves (and ready-made ’40s dollface) for Kay. It makes a sort of sense, and yet, I dunno. Swank’s at her best when she’s making herself almost dangerously open, awkwardly honest, and eager. Madeline’s all blind alleys and nested agendas. But, if you know the story, you know the seeming paradox could work.
All I’m saying is: Our beloved blogfather wants the roles reversed. And if he doesn’t get his way, he’s going to put me and Slezak on dry food. So please, Brian DePalma, listen to the blogfather and reshoot your whole movie. Like, before next mealtime. Please. I hate Tender Vittles. They are not tender in the slightest.