An Afro-American private detective is hired to find a woman and gets mixed up in a murderous political scandal.
Carl Franklin’s likeable take on Walter Mosley’s nostalgic 40s LA-set pulp fiction proves another chip off the noir(ital) block from the director of the more contemporary, and frankly better, One False Move. The latest in a series of private eye movies which descend from Chinatown, Devil attempts to recreate the labyrinthine cynicism of a bygone genre and although not without class ends up substituting blurry period feel for the contemporary grit of the films it evokes.
Ezekial “Easy” Rawlins, handsomely played by Washington, is a just-fired ex-GI who needs to keep up payments on his LA tract home. He is hired by a suitably shady character (Sizemore, this year’s Mr Sleaze) to locate Daphne Monet (Beals), the missing girlfriend of a mayoral candidate. Daphne likes blue dresses and black men and Easy’s search for her turns up two corpses in as many days. The case, and the film, proceed predictably until Easy calls in Mouse (Don Cheadle), a friend from back home whose comical but frightening violent streak livens things up considerably.
This is a very seductive picture, with Washington posing in a vest or a snappy hat, a cool jazz soundtrack, lots of vintage cars and hopping dialogue. Franklin expresses a genuine nostalgia for the neatly lawned and folksy black LA communities that would turn into the urban wasteland of John Singleton. However, the resolution of the mystery — which depends on a pathos Beals isn’t allowed to evoke — prompts a strong shrug of “is that all there is?” leaving you expecting a bigger finale than the one you’ve had. In all, it’s of considerable interest, but can’t cut it with the trenchcoat classics.
Compared to similar genre offerings, this ain't much cop. But standing alone, it's an entertaining and amiable film.
Reviewed by Kim Newman