'I Am the Night' opens new angle on Black Dahlia case
Posted January 27, 2019 1:01 p.m. EST
CNN — The fascinating subject matter -- revisiting the notorious Black Dahlia case -- is nearly undone by florid execution and a disappointing ending in "I Am the Night," a TNT miniseries that features the prominent pairing of star Chris Pine and his "Wonder Woman" director, Patty Jenkins.
Billed as being "inspired by" true events, the six-part project tells the story of Fauna Hodel (India Eisley), a teenage girl being raised in Reno by an African-American woman (Golden Brooks), who journeys to Los Angeles in pursuit of explanations about her lineage and who her biological parents are.
Unfolding in the mid-1960s -- with racial unrest, and the Watts Riots, as a backdrop -- there's a strong "L.A. Confidential" vibe, at least in the early going. Fauna's search leads her to Dr. George Hodel (Jefferson Mays), a shadowy, well-connected gynecologist, a figure who has been connected to the grisly 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short (later christened the Black Dahlia) by his son, Steve Hodel, in the book "Black Dahlia Avenger."
Fauna's story operates on one track, with a parallel plot involving a down-on-his-luck reporter, Jay Singletary (Pine), whose career was undone in part by his reporting about Hodel. The eventual intersection of those threads potentially offers Fauna answers, and Singletary a path to redemption.
The seamy, sordid aspects of the Dahlia murder -- and the implications about what Hodel did, and might have done, in the nearly two decades after it -- provide a creepy undercurrent to the proceedings. The story is more enticing, though, before Fauna and Singletary's arcs connect, at which point -- perhaps because Pine is the bigger name -- the series seems to have a hard time deciding where to place the focus.
"I Am the Night" does ooze atmosphere. But the more stylish aspects of the production are undercut by the clichés, from the corrupt cops to Singletary's Korean War flashbacks to his hard-bitten editor, who urges him to bring back a story, never mind the collateral damage.
TNT has found (or maybe stumbled into) a fertile limited-series niche with sensational crime yarns -- first "The Alienist," and now another handsome period piece with a serial killer hook. Pine brings formidable star power to the exercise, while Eisley (who bears a more than passing resemblance to her mother, actress Olivia Hussey) is fine as the understandably confused girl, while Mays and another "Wonder Woman" alum, Connie Nielsen, add to the macabre overtones.
Still, "I Am the Night" (which drew its inspiration from Fauna Hodel's memoir) can't help but feel like a squandered opportunity -- a wedding of concept and talent that doesn't fulfill its considerable promise.
For TNT, the marquee elements could still yield favorable results for this heavily promoted event. But creatively speaking, "I Am the Night" is merely the latest drama devoted to the Dahlia case that, like the LAPD's original investigation, has failed to produce a satisfying outcome.
"I Am the Night" premieres Jan. 28 at 9 p.m. on TNT. Like CNN, TNT is part of WarnerMedia.