Walter Mosley "Devil in a Blue Dress"

Adapted from Walter Mosley's excellent first novel, this variation on the film noir in the Chandler tradition is top quality entertainment. Carl Franklin has created a film which is visually stunning and also true to the spirit of the book. The opening scenes made me gasp. Franklin's picture of downtown L.A, specifically Central avenue at 34th Street, in the summer of '48 is buzzing with energy, vibrant with colour. The crowds of people thronging the street are black. There is an air of affluence about the scene, the clothes and the bright, shiny cars parked along the kerbside.
Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins, a war veteran, has shared in the new affluence and has bought his own house but has just lost his job and needs to make money to keep up his payments. He is offered what seems easy money to find a white girl who is said to keep company with blacks . Easy feels there is something wrong about the whole deal and he is right. Before long he is in deep trouble with various vicious hoodlums and with the no less vicious L.A. police. It is only when Easy finally decides not to take all this lying down and calls on his old friend, Mouse, who is a mean and deadly match for the worst of them and can outshoot the best of them that things start to look up for Easy Rawlins. The action takes them from sleaziest downtown LA to the top (and also sleazy) seats of power in the city and on the way Easy becomes a detective, though things happen to this black detective that would never have happened to Philip Marlowe.
Franklin's casting of the characters is spot on. There is not one weak performance. Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins must have pleased Mosley. At the beginning and for much of the way through the film you can see in Washington's portrayal of the character the morality and sense of justice which are his natural attributes. If he becomes just a little tarnished on the way it is because he has to survive in a society where the qualities that shine through Easy are, on the whole, rare. The arrival of Mouse, unhampered by a sense of right and wrong and casually competent in seeing off the opposition brings a marked change in the pace of the film. The violence escalates and Easy learns what has to be done in order to survive in a time and place where racism is the norm and corruption in high places the usual state of affairs. Much as it is now.
The film operates on more than one level, as does all the best literature and cinema. Caught up in the immediacy of events and images on the screen as you watch the film, it is only later that the you realise the complexity of the issues behind the plot. (P.E.D.)
See review of Walter Mosley's RL's Dream

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