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USA 1995
Directed by
Carl Franklin
102 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Devil In A Blue Dress

Although American reviewers probably couldn’t call Carl Franklin’s film a noir neo-noir, that is what it is - a Raymond Chandleresque, Dashiell Hammetish private eye whodunnit with, bar two of the major roles, a black cast.

It’s  late 1940s Los Angeles and Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) a World War II veteran has just lost his job. In order to pay his mortgage Easy takes a job offered him by a shady character, DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) and goes on the prowl for a white woman named Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), the girlfriend of a local politician, who was last seen in L.A.’s Negro district. Sure enough Easy soon finds himself caught in a web of deception and the bodies are piling up.

With a script adapted by Franklin from a novel by Walter Mosley (who also wrote the script for the Jonathan Demme’s 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate in which Washington starred) Devil in a Blue Dress is a neat little film with nice production values and a story that twists and turns in typical fashion. But that is also its problem. It’s a little too well-packaged, It’s plot a  little too familiar and that it has a black cast is more of a novelty than a really significant point of difference in a very crowded catalogue, one which include much better takes on the genre.

The film is strongly reminiscent of Chinatown (1974) but Franklin (unsurprisingly, also an Afro-American) doesn’t have Polanski’s dark sensibility. Although all the elements are there  - corruption in high places, seedy dives, a femme fatale, tough guys with gats, dead bodies, bourbon on the rocks and a protagonist with a strong sense of personal morality, Franklin's film lacks much-needed edge. Sizemore isn’t particularly villainous. despite the film's title Beals isn’t particularly fatale and Washington ambles through proceedings with, like his name, affable ease, the corruption not being particularly corrupt, the violence not particularly violent and the racism relatively low-key.

Devil in a Blue Dress is watchable but don’t expect to get excited by it. Although critically well-received audiences were underwhelmed and the film did not fare well at the box office.and Franklin has largely worked in television since both as a director and actor.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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