3.0 out of 5 stars
Uniqueness amongst Conventionality, July 20 2003
'Devil in a Blue Dress' quickly creates a very appealing misé en scene that's constructed upon upbeat and sunlit scenery. Combined with director Franklin's dexterous dolly movements and smooth camera techniques that follow the always-charismatic Denzel Washington around the culturally diverse streets of 1948 Los Angeles, it makes you want to throw your imagination into its storyline for a few hours. With brooding and insidious male characters, beautiful and mysterious female characters, voiceover narration by the protagonist, and a gradually revelatory, detective-like storyline we get the sense that we're watching a more-colorful-than-usual film noir. There's no question that it couldn't have been setup much better; it's too bad that it slowly-but-surely dissipates away into the realm of conventionality.
As far as underrated acting goes - Tom Sizemore is spectacularly sleazy as the coldhearted DeWitt Albright and Maury Chaykin is his usually creepy self as the political Matthew Terell. Easy Rawlins (Washington) is a familiar character - he's a man who will do just about whatever he has to do in order to earn some cash, although he's proud of his dignity and won't sell himself short. He's also more amiable and compassionate than the average man is, which is what ultimately differentiates him from the bad guys of the story. The lesser-seen element here, however, is that he also happens to be Afro-American. It's refreshing to see a film concentrate upon this culture without trying to dictate too many things to us about it - race is an element of this film, but it's not a particularly prominent or overblown one.
A myriad of different characters are introduced - sometimes it seems as if the film is actually relying upon the appearances of new characters in order to progress the plot, and even then some things aren't made very clear. I understand that the writers were simply trying to convey the sheer volume of the situation that Easy has gotten himself into, but its lack of tautness just gets annoying after a while. And there is a cool aura of mystery surrounding the plot until you realize that it's simply going down the all-too-familiar cinematic road of political corruption. The final theme of an average man achieving complacency through oppression is well communicated, but couldn't it have been done in a slightly more interesting/original/unique way?