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The restored 'Devil in a Blue Dress' borders on perfection

Denzel Washington plays Easy Rawlins in "Devil in a Blue Dress"
Denzel Washington plays Easy Rawlins in "Devil in a Blue Dress"

Just last week, the Criterion Collection released a gorgeous new 4K restoration of the 1995 film noir, Devil in a Blue Dress. You may remember this movie: it stars Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins, the private detective created by Walter Mosley. This story was Easy’s introduction, taking place in post-World War II Los Angeles before Easy has even become a detective, when he’s hired by a shady guy to find a powerful man’s missing girlfriend.

I don’t know what kind of impact the movie had on you if you saw it back when it came out, but I’m telling you now that you really ought to see it again, because nearly every aspect of it borders on perfection. The director, Carl Franklin, had already made the astoundingly good crime thriller One False Move a few years before, and here was his chance to tackle a major film with a bona fide movie star. And he nailed it. Devil in a Blue Dress sweeps you up in its look and tone—it’s dark, as a noir should be, but every scene is gorgeously lit and shot by famed cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, and Franklin knows how to propel the story while working in the deeply important social and racial aspects of the movie, too. It’s a kind of filmmaking that’s almost completely disappeared today, which is why I say you need to see it again now—this is kind of a classic style that would have seemed more familiar in the mid-‘90s, but that we can now look at through a different lens. It’s the sort of thing that makes you think, “Oh, right, this is what a movie looks like.”

The one aspect of the movie that never quite reached the same heights as the rest is, interestingly, the story. It’s not bad at all, but mostly it just does its job while letting us appreciate the craft of the filmmaking and, without a doubt, the star power of Denzel and Don Cheadle, who plays Easy’s loose cannon friend, Mouse. The level of charisma when they’re both on screen is explosive, and the fact we didn’t get half a dozen Carl Franklin-directed mysteries featuring Easy and Mouse is unquestionably a crime against cinema.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.