Devil in a Blue Dress

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Carl Franklin

REVIEWED: 10-12-98

Easy Rawlins (Washington) has fallen on hard times in l948 Los Angeles; he's been arbitrarily laid off from his job in an aircraft plant, the wolves are at his door, and it's time to come up with a plan. When a shady character offers him some cash to find a woman's whereabouts, it sounds like easy money, but it turns out to be a bit more involved than he thought. She has a predilection for black men, and is traced to a local mobster named Frank Green, but soon Easy finds himself armpit-deep in a couple of murders, blackmail, political corruption, kiddie porn, and the local mayoral race. After finding out that his new friends play a little rough, Easy calls up his friend Mouse (Cheadle), a trigger-happy psycho who was his homeboy from back in the days when he lived in Houston. All the while, Easy is confronted with the bigotry of segregated Los Angeles (a slimy politician proudly declares himself to be "a friend of the Negro"). He sees much of the City Of AngelsĒ promise deferred and out of his grasp, despite the fact that he's a decorated WWII vet who fought for that brass ring in Europe. Taken from the Walter Mosely novel, Devil is the mean streets of Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, seen from a black man's perspective. Easy is about the only man in his working-class black neighborhood to own his own house, and the house is his most prized possession, second only to his pride. He questions himself constantly about his devotion to Mouse, knowing what an evil little shit he is, but their loyalty to each other is unswerving. The plot is full of twists and turns that require close attention, but unfortunately the literary pace of things makes that sort of diligence a little difficult at times. The pacing problems are compounded somewhat by Jennifer Beals' lackluster, vanilla performance as femme fatale Daphne (the titular Devil in a Blue Dress), but such concerns are minor. Cheadle steals every scene where he appears as Mouse, the attention to period detail is meticulous (though it's hard to imagine L.A. ever looking so clean), and Denzel Washington brings some real dimension to Mosely's recurring Easy Rawlins character. Tom Sizemore also excels as the sadistic thug DeWitt Albright. I remember this movie laying an egg at the box office a few years ago, and it's too bad; it's a well-crafted noir that comes from a somewhat different perspective.

--Jerry Renshaw

Capsule Reviews
Devil in a Blue Dress

Other Films by Carl Franklin
One True Thing

Film Vault Suggested Links
Nightwatch
Extreme Measures
Perfect Blue

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