It's almost underwhelming, now--De Palma-philes were prepared for an event, and The Black Dahlia, to my mind anyway, doesn't feel like one. It's clearly the most "commercial-minded" of De Palma's films since Mission: Imposible. That film has slowly revealed to us some hidden beauties over the years--we'll have to wait and see if The Black Dahlia does likewise.
The trouble (trouble?) is that it's actually a good genre film if you ask me. If Joe No-name were the credited director, people would (or, hypothetically, should) be saying it is a nice yarn, for all the limited positivity of such a statement. I don't understand the negative reviews, or rather, I can't put myself in the mindset of their magnitude. The movie is convoluted, sure, but it's hardly impossible to follow. Its overall shape is nice and rounded--The Black Dahlia affects a lot of different tones (e.g., Fiona Shaw's performance set up next to a sultry Hilary Swank!?) and I think it accomplished this risky business competently.
Specialists of the genre can feel free to challenge me on this, but--it would seem to me that the neo-noirs of the 1970s (the first times that people decided they'd make films that were specifically noirs and not "crime movies" or the like) gave way to the neo-neo-noirs of roughly the last decade, where historical signification is highly important and must be coded as stylishness above style-neutrality at all costs (Devil in a Blue Dress; The Funeral; L.A. Confidential) ... De Palma is a perfect "hired hand" for this sort of thing! This form of 'history' being merely the constellation of the properly satisfying (not always correct) semiotic codes, a way of presencing our past (so to speak), this is precisely what De Palma does before he even worries about the meatier questions that consume him as an artist. And the workings which come from the genre and (I can only assume) the Ellroy novel, wherein Josh Harnett's character has to reconfigure events and images he's already seen but (he realizes) has drastically misunderstood and wrongly evaluated ... that's a straight-up De Palma trope. Of course, from the sampling I've done of negative reviewing, it seems that some people are disappointed that De Palma didn't do more of "his" techniques, no bold and baroque flourishes (which I suppose were wanted to merely embellish and intensify the kewl genre trappings?). I empathize with this brand of disappointment--but I wonder why there were so few such BDP defenders with Mission to Mars and Femme Fatale, generic failures that were actually quite impressive films full of De Palma goodness?
So this is where I feel bad wishing that there were something more from The Black Dahlia. On its modest terms, it's perfectly fine--ten or twenty years from now, maybe the film won't appear to be anything too special. (FYI, Keith Uhlich makes a worthy early case that it is special.) But neither will it--would it--appear a blight on De Palma's or any comparable filmmaker's filmography. I'm not saying the film is devoid of interest for fans, that it is 100% a "job of work" and nothing more. But my impression upon first viewing is that it's accomplished studio filmmaking made by a man exceptionally well-suited for this project, with only minor interest in terms of the De Palma vision, worldview, or stylistic development.