Devil in a Blue Dress, Dick

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) ***  Denzel Washington plays Easy Rawlins, a down-on-his-luck sometime machinist, sometime detective in late-1940’s L.A. Seems someone wants him to find a mysterious white lady in a blue dress (Jennifer Beals)who’s thought to have been seen in a blacks-only club. Enter Easy, who with his connections can get into the club and find the girl. But, of course, there’s more to this plot than just that, or else it’d be a mighty short film.

The atmosphere is a major asset here; director Carl Franklin has done a magnificent job not only of recreating the Los Angeles of the late forties but also of showing the story from the black perspective, a rarity in film. All the sights and sounds are there, and if you concentrate real hard you can even detect the smells, too. Washington’s aces, of course, as usual; makes you wonder if he’ll do any more adaptations of Walter Mosley books starring Easy Rawlins. He’s aided by a very good supporting cast, including Beals and Tom Sizemore (playing a heavy, surprise surprise!). Fans of Washington should watch this, but really anyone who likes film noir will approve.

Dick (1999) ***1/2 Much time has passed since the Watergate scandal of 1974. In the present day, we see so many scandals involving upper-crust politicians (including, but not limited to, the President), that we have become jaded to their importance. In 1974, though, this scandal marked the first time a president’s authority and character had been publicly questioned. The two main characters are two 15-year-old girls – one the only offspring of a single mother (who is played by Teri Garr) and the other the only sister in a standard nuclear family, complete with a pothead older brother who’s about to be drafted. The events of the times are swirling around these two young ladies, but we see them all through their eyes. Some of us know about the events of the early 1970s because we were there, and others of us know about them through history books or from our elders. But now we get to see these events as they pertain to two teenagers. It’s interesting how the basic character of a teenager hasn’t changed – these girls dismiss Watergate and Vietnam initially and are more concerned with teen idols, school, and, well, teenager stuff. Admittedly, the plot’s a little contrived, but it never makes the mistake of taking itself seriously. One of the girls happens to live in the Watergate Hotel, and late one night they both innocently learn of the break-in. They subsequently get to meet many key Watergate players, including Haldemann, Liddy, Wooodward, Bernstein, Kissinger, and, of course, Nixon himself.

The most amazing thing about this script is that while nothing is really historically revised to tell the tale, the girls’ characters are used to supply details of these historical events that may answer some old questions. What happened to the section that Nixon’s secretary chopped from the illegal tape? Who was Deep Throat, anyway? The ‘answers’ to these questions will make you laugh.

As for the acting, it’s absolutely perfect. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams are a real treat as the giggly, naive teenage girls. Their characters are very well-written – at no point do they do something that seems out of character. But the biggest treat of all is Dan Hedaya as Nixon. Some people can do Nixon impressions, and some ARE Nixon. Hedaya captures the feel for the ex-President, from his creepy scowl when trying to be friendly to his state of panic when the truth of the scandal finally set in. He’s the best thing going in this film, and possibly should be nominated for his work.

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