Easy Rawlins is a private citizen, not strictly speaking a private eye. He is also a black man. But these two significant--and dramatically potent--differences aside, novelist Walter Mosley's creation is the truest heir we have yet had to Raymond Chandler's immortal Philip Marlowe. And writer-director Carl Franklin's cool, expert adaptation of Devil in a Blue Dress, Mosley's first novel, evokes the spirit of '40s film noir more effectively than any movie since Chinatown.

This is not just a matter of recapturing the look of postwar Los Angeles or making an attractive figure of a smart, righteous loner. It requires as well...

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