Plot: What’s it about?
As you may know from reading my most recent reviews, I have been on a bit of a Twilight Time kick recently. The small distributor has a very interesting repertoire of films, showcasing numerous films on Blu-ray that would never receive a release otherwise in high definition. Admittedly, some of these films are lesser efforts and may or may not be worth your hard earned cash (these releases are not cheap – typically running about $30 a pop if you buy through the website, running much more on Amazon and EBay.) The other kicker is that the films are not typically stuffed with extra features, mainly due to the nature of this being such a small distributor. When Twilight Time had a sale a couple weeks back I bought some of the titles I was most curious about. I love film noir, so I decided to cough up the dough and purchase Devil in a Blue Dress.
Devil in a Blue Dress stars Denzel Washington as “Easy” Ezekiel Rawlins a recently unemployed home owner and decorated war veteran in 1940s Los Angeles. At the beginning of the film he is hired by a shady private detective named DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) to locate Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals.) Easy accepts the job because he needs money to keep his home. The first night on the job he has sex with Coretta James, his friend Dupree’s woman, to try to get information on Daphne. The next morning Coretta winds up dead. As Easy continues to work the case the bodies continue to pile and he finds himself embroiled in political turmoil.
Overall, this film is pretty good, but is not quite great. The performances are pretty solid, with Denzel and Sizemore turning in solid work. One performance in particular is really good – Don Cheadle as Miles, Easy’s murderous friend. When Miles shows up in the second half of the film it breathes a lot of life into the movie. The problem with the film is that some of the dialogue can be a bit clunky, example: “Everybody was peeing on my head and telling me it was rain.” These lines stick out like a sore thumb, and just don’t quite work. Without a few lines that don’t land you have some very solid cinematography by Tak Fujimoto and solid production design. The direction by screen adapter Carl Franklin is solid, but the overall story of the film is a bit flatter than you would hope. That said, the atmosphere of the film is pretty good and style wins over the substance in this case. This leads to a movie that I have trouble recommending – I did not regret watching it and really liked parts of it, even if the storyline is not that unique or compelling. It just is not on the whole a “great” movie. I highly recommend renting before a purchase, despite the fact that I am okay personally with owning it.
Video: How’s it look?
Twilight Time did a solid job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec. The film looked as if it had artificially been lightened, which I found a bit annoying, but for a limited release for a relatively small fan base, I appreciate all the steps that Twilight Time took. Honestly, this transfer is pretty good, and the elements they used were in great shape. Fine detail is good as well. I am curious to see what other people think of the transfer. The second half is less light than the first and looked better to me.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The audio treatment of Devil in a Blue Dress was very good. The surrounds are fairly active in that 1995 sort of way. The gun shots and other sound effects will sound familiar to people who watched films like Lethal Weapon, but we’re not distracting from my enjoyment of the film. Overall clarity of dialogue is very good and left me happy with this twenty year old sound mix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Isolated Score Track
- Commentary by Carl Franklin – I really enjoyed this commentary with the writer and director who talks about numerous technical aspects and some stories about the film. Worthwhile.
- Screen Test with Don Cheadle – (14 minutes, SD) This was a pretty cool feature to add in. Introduced by the director is footage of Don Cheadle reading several scenes as Miles.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
Devil in a Blue Dress is not a perfect film. Far from it. The storyline has a little too much going on and not enough going on. The dialogue is occasionally incredibly clunky. It is also a great exercise in style over substance, with solid camera work by Tak Fujimoto and good performances all around. Twilight Time have provided a good transfer (albeit a bit light to my eyes) and solid audio. The special features are interesting if a bit sparse.
Overall, I would recommend renting the film before a commitment to buy it, and for the hefty price you can do better by purchasing something else. If you are going to purchase it, I recommend waiting until it is on sale.