Release Date: September 16th, 1995 (TIFF)
Directed by: Carl Franklin
Written by: Carl Franklin
Based on: Devil In a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, Don Cheadle, Maury Chaykin, Terry Kinney
TriStar Pictures, 102 Minutes
“It was summer 1948, and I needed money. After goin’ door-to-door all day long, I was back again at Joppy’s bar trying to figure out where I was gonna go looking for work the next day. The newspapers was goin’ on and on about the city elections – like they was really gonna change somebody’s life. But my life had already changed when I lost my job three weeks before. ” – Easy Rawlins
You know what is refreshing? Seeing a black lead in a film-noir picture, even if it happened half a century after the height of the style. But who was a better choice than Denzel Washington for this picture? He’s handsome, debonair, classy and has the gravitas and charisma that a film-noir lead needs to have. He’s so good in this, actually, that I would have loved to see this character return in a series of films.
Even though this came out in the 1990s, it does feel like authentic noir, more so than a lot of the neo-noirs of that era. Washington is perfect in this, as is his charismatic buddy, Don Cheadle. Tom Sizemore also pulls his weight and gave life to an interesting character that pulls Washington’s Easy Rawlins into this noir web. Then you also have Jennifer Beals, who immediately makes an impact in anything she is in due to her natural beauty and solid acting chops. I never felt like Beals got as many good roles as she probably deserved. Here, she feels like a true woman of film-noir.
In this film, we see Easy Rawlins take a job form the mysterious DeWitt Albright (Sizemore). He is hired to track down Daphne Monet (Beals) and it is said that Albright was looking for her on behalf of Todd Carter (Terry Kinney). Daphne is suspected of hiding out somewhere in the black community of Los Angeles. As the film rolls on, you discover that Carter did not ask this of Albright and that Albright is not who he seems. And this is when the real noir twists come in.
Devil In a Blue Dress is a jazzy and energetic film that doesn’t have a dull moment. This was a film that really felt tailor made for Washington. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hugely popular and that is kind of disappointing, because this film could have given birth to a cool trend of long overdue black film-noir. Sadly, black Americans were hugely underrepresented in classic noir, even though they had a large presence and cultural influence on urban America, where most noirs took place.
This is one of the best neo-noirs of the 1990s, hands down. While it isn’t quite on the level of The Two Jakes, a film I love but the critics, not so much, Devil In a Blue Dress feels right at home next to it.
This is one of my favorite Denzel Washington films and it also features one of my favorite Don Cheadle characters of all-time. What’s not to love?