When I think of the respectable and rewarding things about the films of Brian De Palma, I always think of those visual arias that are his well-known specialty — those searing displays of virtuoso camerawork and choreography that are worked out just so.
My right-off-the-top-of-my-head favorites: (a) a fantasizing Angie Dickinson being mauled in the shower in Dressed to Kill, (b) Sissy Spacek‘s freckled hand reaching out of the grave to grab a horrified Amy Irving, (c) Al Pacino lying on a Grand Central Station escalator in Carlito’s Way, (d) Tim Robbins meeting instant death when his face plate is removed during a space walk in Mission to Mars, and (e) Irving using her telekinetic powers in The Fury to make bad guy John Casse- vetes explode into pieces.
But I almost never think of De Palma’s movies being good as entire creations because they really and truly stopped being that a long time ago. The last entirely decent De Palma film — by which I mean a De Palma that didn’t once make me squirm or groan or shake my head in sadness — was Mission Impossible, although I did squirm here and there. Scarface was the last one before that. The last beginning-to-end 100% enjoyable De Palma film was The Phantom of the Paradise.
But I’ll always admire De Palma for those little slices of cake. There’s one of two of them in his latest, The Black Dahlia. Problem is, you have to sit through the whole film to enjoy them, and by that time they come along you’re so numbed and despondent over the turgid, impossible-to-follow plot and florid acting and the general over-ladled quality of the damn thing that nothing seems so enjoyable as the thought of getting up and jamming.