VISITING THE WALKER Art Center to promote Devil in a Blue Dress, director Carl Franklin seems happy to engage in a dialogue about how the film's historical authenticity, underlying themes, and brilliant casting all enhance the impact of its central twist. The problem is that he's talking to a journalist, and fears I might spoil said twist for people who haven't yet seen the movie. "There are some interesting conversations to be had about this," Franklin cautions, "but it's gotta be off the record. Let's shut that [tape recorder] off." Fair enough. Suffice it to say that Devil's rich subtext results from Franklin's understanding that race issues pervade all sectors of American culture, Hollywood not the least.
Eventually, we set the tape rolling again while discussing race as it relates to Franklin and his career. With irony intended, he mentions that one of the reasons he's had plenty of scripts to choose from is because, even after making his indie hit One False Move, he was widely perceived by the industry to be a white director. "There was no money for marketing," Franklin says, "and so people assumed I was white because the lead [actor], Bill Paxton, was white. Until I started to do interviews and get my picture taken, all the material I got offered was white material. Eventually, black people started sending scripts too, but the white material never stopped coming." (Franklin plans to base one of his next films on a Joe Eztherhas script entitled Reliable Sources.)
Like the filmmaker, Devil's private-eye protagonist (Denzel Washington) crosses the color line to uncover the secret realities of two separate cultures. "Easy Rawlins is like a modern-day Everyman in terms of how his actions reveal the nation's identity," Franklin says. "In Easy's preoccupation with higher authorities and political powers--working not with heavy artillery, but with courage--he's a hero, and he emerges with his morals fairly well intact. But what he's learned is that there's no Santa Claus--he comes to a wisdom that's not altogether pleasant." Though Franklin thinks Easy's moral dilemma is reflected largely in his relationship with the movie's eponymous character, he's again careful not to spill the beans. "We shouldn't talk about that," he says, grinning like the devil. (Rob Nelson)