This movie based on the novel by the highly-acclaimed author Walter Mosley does right by the material upon which it’s based. It effectively captures the feel of noir movies of the time during which the story takes place, features the talented Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins, the lead quasi-private eye character and, apropos to the genre, includes Easy’s narration. The jazzy rhythms of Mosley’s prose are well depicted both visually and in sound.
I should mention here that Easy Rawlins is (obviously, due to the casting choice) a black man. One the novel’s best features is to bring to the fore the social stigmas and limitations of being black in post-World War II America. Mosley’s work is hardly the first to have a black man as a detective. But the series may be among the first in the genre to examine racial discrimination, both against and between members of a race, and the promise of an ability to cross those boundaries, despite the odds.
As previously mentioned, Easy isn’t actually a licensed private eye. It’s a vocation he’s taken up by default after being laid off from his job at an airplane factory. Since we all have to eat and pay the mortgage (owning a house is a point of pride for Easy), he accepts a client referred by local bar owner and friend Joppy (played by Mel Winkler). The client, a sketchy sort of white man DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) who dresses well and talks a good talk, wants Easy to find a missing woman, Daphne Monet (played by Jennifer Beals of Flashdance fame, who appears here sans welding equipment). Daphne would appear to be the title character, given her choice of apparel.
The plot is of course convoluted as befits the genre. Along with exploring racial divisions in 1940, the story serves up the requisite helping of surly cops, crooked politicians and people who aren’t what they seem.
And then there are people who are exactly what they seem—such as Easy’s violent sidekick Mouse (played to perfection by Don Cheadle). You could describe him as a deux-ex-Mouse-ina, in that he swoops in at just the right time to do Easy’s dirty work.
For me, this takes nothing away from the plot, but it does tell you a lot about Easy. He’s the kind of guy willing to get into a problem over his head, even to the point of doing a dirty deed or two—but not that dirty.
The ending is bittersweet, but just happy enough to suggest that the protagonist’s life is back in order. It’s the kind of ending that almost begs for a sequel. On the other hand, maybe it’s best left as is. Why ruin a perfectly good Hollywood ending by bringing the character back for more?
This film is thoroughly enjoyable and richly deserves two thumbs up!