An engrossingly atmospheric dip into the dark waters of postwar urban intrigue, Devil in a Blue Dress ushers in the welcome subgenre of black noir. First screen adaptation of a Walter Mosley mystery novel featuring private detective Easy Rawlins, this long-awaited follow-up feature from One False Move helmer Carl Franklin navigates a complicated story of blackmail, race and politics in confident fashion.
It’s the United States, 1948, and Easy (Denzel Washington), bounced out of his aircraft-industry job in a dispute, accepts $100 from the shady DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) to find Daphne Monet, a mysterious lady who’s been involved with a wealthy mayoral candidate.
Central Avenue, the commercial center of black life at the time, reps the magnet to which the action returns time and again. Vibrantly recreated for the film (virtually nothing remains today of its glory days), it’s a pulsating, exciting promenade.
When Easy goes there looking for Daphne, the woman he meets (Lisa Nicole Carson, in a spunky turn) mysteriously ends up dead. As the title indicates, the centerpiece is Daphne (Jennifer Beals), a glamorous young lady who straddles the worlds of both LAs in ways that may be tragic but aren’t all that surprising.
The tone is less edgy and mordant than in One False Move, but pic nonetheless has a flavor all its own, thanks variously to its sharply observed cast of characters, astutely re-created setting, adherence to novelistic details and solid p.o.v. Washington’s performance is alert and subtle. Unfortunately, nothing about the Daphne character works – from the writing to her costumes and coiffure to Beals’ undimensional performance – leaving the picture with something of a soft spot at the center.