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Devil in a Blue Dress(SE)/B+, A-

Columbia/1995/101m/ANA 1.85, FS 1.33

    The artwork for the advertising campaign of Devil in a Blue Dress elegantly captured the snap and pizzazz of the era in which this film is set. The film doesn’t have that anticipated sparkle, neither in look or pace. It’s a good film, yes, but it couldn’t have been a terrific film. Director Carl Franklin following the success of One False Move got to show off his talents with a much bigger budget and a genuine Hollywood movie star in Denzel Washington. He acquits himself in fine style. Franklin’s screenplay might have played a bit tighter, but all the elements make sense and it’s a on target adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel. A keen sense of period dominates much of the action and values.
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Easy Rawlins: "When somebody tells me there ain't nothing to worry about, I usually look down to see if my fly open" ©Columbia

      Easy Rawlins lets integrity get in the way of his factory job and finds himself loose on the street and desperate for the buck to pay the bank. Rawlins gets seduced into the devious world of Los Angeles politics and guns with the promise of easy money and limited involvement. It just doesn’t seem to work that way. Before Devil in a Blue Dress wends its way to conclusion, Rawlins in implicated in a number of murders, is battered about by forces on both sides of the fence and has to dig into his questionable past to come up with the solution for survival. Rawlins is a great character and deserves a sequel or two, but the pale performance of Devil in a Blue Dress at the box office may preclude that future.
     The film is photographed with a mostly nostalgic patina by skillful Tak Fujimoto. No doubt it’s the look that Franklin wanted to evoke a period gone by. I think Devil in a Blue Dress would have worked so much better with an emphasis on gloss: glittering nights, ruby lips, mirrored pistols and reflections on polished period cars.
      The magnetic star presence of Denzel Washington is once again on display in Devil in a Blue Dress. This guy is a natural, a throw-back to the great stars of yesteryear. Easy Rawlins is a worthy character to make best use of Washington’s charisma and sex appeal. Whether managing the unpredictable Mouse, played with gleeful menace by Don Cheadle, or reacting the overtures of a sexy Jennifer Beals, Washington is in the driver’s seat. Even when he is clobbered by cops or gunsels he dominates the scenes. Credit Franklin for doing a fine job in guiding his actors to excellent screen performances.
      The music alone is enough reason to visit Devil in a Blue Dress. Blues and Jazz of the forties lace the soundtrack with authenticity. The wail of T-Bone Walker, the flash of Duke Ellington or the period sound of Kay Kyser accompany the images. The outstanding score by Elmer Bernstein adds an hardened edge to the material and unifies musical elements brilliantly.
      This outstanding special edition DVD from Columbia captures the mood sought after by director Carl Franklin. Shadow detail is quite good in difficult lighting circumstances. The image is sharp and color is accurate. Fujimoto’s accomplished photography which perfectly lights black and white actors in the same scenes is transferred extremely well to DVD. The Dolby Digital 5:1 sound is excellent. Surround information enhances the action, but is not especially aggressive. It has more of an overall ambient quality to it. The music sounds great. Whether period songs or Bernstein’s score, it’s clean and breezy. The world of Easy Rawlins makes an easy move to DVD. The Don Cheadle screen test is a lot of fun to watch. Cheadle exhibits the charisma that makes Mouse a fascinating character. Off screen, the voices of Carl Franklin and Denzel Washington throw the Easy Rawlins dialogue at Cheadle. One wonders if maybe Franklin should give acting a try with those excellent line readings. Carl Franklin’s audio commentary adds another dimension to viewing Devil in a Blue Dress. Providing knowledgeable insights into Los Angeles during the forties. My DVD defaulted to English subtitles on, an annoyance to be sure.