Tuesday, January 22, 2008

... is in the details

A good noir film makes you feel uneasy. The viewer, like the protagonist, has no idea what sinister plot will unfold. There are larger conspiratorial, often societal, forces at work that pit the protagonist against everyone else. The storyline takes place on the margins of society, mostly at night, in the dark. The main character sometimes unwittingly becomes a private eye, sometimes already is; either way, s/he (usually a he) can't trust anyone, even old friends or family.

Devil in a Blue Dress was great noir. Or neo-noir, I guess. (The credits say it was based on a book I haven't read, so I can only comment on the film itself.) The key difference in Devil is that the central plot revolves around racial tensions in a segregated Los Angeles post-WWII. Denzel Washington plays "Easy" Rawlins, a reluctant unemployed factory worker-turned-sleuth hired to find a woman who has ties to powerful politicians. (I guessed the "secret" early on, as anyone who's read Nella Larsen would totally see through the "mystery" of the white woman in the blue dress who spends a lot of time in the black section of town.) What I found most fascinating was Rawlins' obsession with paying his mortgage and protecting his house: it was more a film about the expansion (and implications) of the black middle class, as Washington's voice-over at the end of the film reinforces.

Plus, Denzel was onscreen for a straight hour and a half. Always a good time....