Small Roles Big Performances: Don Cheadle in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Greetings, all and sundry. Allow me a few moments to entertain and possibly elucidate in an arena that all actors and actresses dream of. To be given a secondary role in a film with a strong lead, a better than decent story and a budget and director worthy of telling a story well.

In this case, a film based on the Walter Mosely’s post WWII, hard boiled private eye novel Devil in a Blue Dress. I’d read the paper back a few years later and started putting together its cast in my head. Denzel Washington was a shoo-in for the recently, possibly unfairly laid off Champion Aviation’s defense plant employee, Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins. Though I couldn’t come up for a suitable actor to play Easy’s polite, possibly psychotic, sadistic back up man, ‘Mouse’ Alexander.

I need have bothered. Carl Franklin and others of higher wisdom made that seamless decision for me. Casting an actor who I’d never seen before, Don Cheadle; to do some of Easy’s heavy lifting. Loyal and prompt when it comes to answering a call from Easy, who is in way over his head. Investigating a missing and elusive Daphne, Jennifer Beals. Who may or may not be involved
with an up and coming powerful politician. Mouse is also dapper, quick and knowledgeable when it comes to saving Easy’s bacon when confronted by a knife wielding henchman. Deftly breaking up the fracas and seating the thug in a chair for a few questions.

Don Cheadle’s Mouse is incredibly polite when asking. And uses slightly more than equal force when his questions are rebuffed. In the form of a formidable, slightly smaller than a Horse Pistol, Webley Mk VI revolver. Which he uses to focus the thug’s waning, erratic attention. By blowing a dime sized hole in his right thigh before asking again.

That, elegantly smooth action and follow up put Denzel in the back seat for much of the remainder of the film. As Easy and Mouse glean information and clues and follow them deeper and deeper down the rabbit’s hole of vagaries, lies, good intentions gone bad and double crosses. As the final pieces come together with the rescue aid of Daphne and the recovery of a large chunk of blackmail money. Aided by slimy, sweaty, bent as barbed wire ‘Joppy’ (Mel Winkler), who is constantly trying to live beyond his means. Easy, Mouse and Joppy drive out to the Hollywood Hills to set up a final ambush with the politician’s uncouth front man, DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) and some crooked protectors. Easy leaves Joppy with Mouse, who loans Easy a .32 Colt Hammerless Automatic. Easy give Mouse a warning not to shoot Joppy as Easy disappeared in shadows. Distance is traveled. Shots are fired and Easy returns to find Joppy dead as Mouse answers, “You said don’t shoot him, right? Well I didn’t; I choked… If you didn’t want me to kill him, why did you leave me alone with him?”.

Creating a fine introduction to a talent to watch. Before adding to his repertoire with the role of recurring D.A. John Littleton opposite Tom Skerritt and Kathy Bates in Picket Fences from CBS between 1993 and 95. Then as a poor black man with his back against the wall in 1923 Jim Crow Florida in John Singleton’s Rosewood in 1997. Before playing second string porn star, Buck Swope in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights the same year.

Then adding his very personal, believable take on Sammy Davis Jr. in HBO’s The Rat Pack with Ray Liotta and Joe Mantegna. Building up credibility while honing his skills in ensemble, genre films through 2000 and 2001. Before latching onto the role of group psychologist, Dr. David Monroe opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Jordan Melamed’s independent, Manic. Where the
harried and pressured doctor tries many ways to get through to and make progress with self loathing, destructive, head banging,cutting teens. And surrender is not an option.

Clockwise: Cheadle in The Rat PackBoogie Nights and Hotel Rwanda

Creating a better than decent body of work for Steve Soderbergh’s opening Ocean’s Eleven franchise. When dividing his times Detective Graham Waters in Paul Haggis’ star heavy, Crash in 2004. Then turning in a fine performance battling Hutus and the bureaucracy to save innocent lives in Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda. Then knocking it out of the park as 1960s Washington, DC disc jockey, talk show host and activist, Petey Green in Kasi Lemmon’s Talk to Me in 2007.

Small Roles … Big Performances Blogathon

Thoughts on Don Cheadle? What’s your favorite role(s) from the 47-year-old thespian?

18 thoughts on “Small Roles Big Performances: Don Cheadle in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

  1. You’ve gotta love a bit of Don Cheadle. His performance in Devil In a Blue Dress is superb. Such an unhinged character. Contrast that with his gentle and naive character from Boogie Nights. The man ha talent and is another favourite of mine. Nice post 🙂

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Mark:

      Thanks for starting the conversation.

      What caught me off guard in Mr. Cheadle’s performance as Mouse, was his friendly rapport and almost smiling face. Before he unloaded on the thug that first attacked Easy. With absolutely no change as the pistol goes off and wounds the thug just enough to talk. No threats, no angry grimaces. Just politely stated questions.

      I’d have loved to eavesdropped on the rehearsals for that scene!

  2. One of my favorite neo-noirs (with a wonderful adaptation of Walter Mosley’s debut novel). And this performance by Cheadle, as that most unique character of Mouse, was simply stellar. Kudos, Kevin.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Michael:

      ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ works not just as a superlative neo-noirs, but as a great period piece. Okay, there were a few mistakes with the cars, but not much else. Very high marks to Mr. Cheadle for coming out of nowhere, arriving like the cavalry and taking a heavy load from Easy’s shoulders. In both the story and the film.

  3. I did an Overlooked piece on this film many a moon ago. And I tell you Don Cheadle is something else. An actor’s whose body of work is to be admired.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, iluv!

      Mr. Cheadle and his role of Mouse just popped in my head when I saw that Ruth was asking for ideas. He’s not on screen that long, but when the camera focuses in on him. Mr. Cheadle owns it!

      It’s kind of a personal three way split between his Mouse, Sammy Davis Jr. and Petey Green as to which role is his best. In a very admirable body of work.

      Hope my critique lived up to your expectations.

  4. Well who doesn’t love me some Cheadle? My favorite role is from Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight. Cheadle, Zahn, Albert Brooks, Rhames, Guizman, Farina, Keener, Viola Davis, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson… what a supporting cast. Jennifer Lopez’s best movie… well only best movie. LOL.

    Kevin have you ever seen Carl Franklin’s movie previous to Devil, One False Move with Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton? The trailer stinks so I included this two thumbs-up… way up recommendation. Pardon the video quality.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Dave:

      Great catch!

      Siskel & Ebert turned my on to ‘One False Move’ ages ago with that clip you
      posted. Along with a decent review from The Washington Post . Franklin takes his time to tell a full story well. With a superior cast and letting some scenes be long if they have to. A staple in the training of a ‘Roger Corman Commando’.

      Michael Beach surprised me as Pluto, who seems to like knives more than most. Bits of his serenely scary character can be seen in his later role as Tod Stapp.Opposite Laurence Fishburne in the Ross Thomas written, ‘Bad Company’ from 1995.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, dirtywithclass!

      Thanks so much!

      What’s interesting and cool about Mr. Cheadle is his willingness to take on any role. From Mouse to a teen psychologist to a part owner in ‘Hotel for Dogs’ and pull the character off with style and ease!

  5. Nice pick Jack. Don Cheadle is such a captivating performer and it’s certainly a joy to watch him next to Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress which is a pretty solid flick.

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Castor!

      Thanks for adding to the conversation.

      Definitely a solid flick. With time equally divided between Washington, Cheadle and Ms. Beals in regards to holding or stealing scenes.

      Very pleased to see Mr. Cheadle use his role as a foundation to build up to other later, brilliant works. Not exactly a chameleon, but possessing exceptional range!

  6. Hi Jack, I’m not familiar with this film at all but it sounds like something I would enjoy. I’ll try to catch it at some point, especially as it’s always fun to see early performances from great actors. Thanks for shining a light on this one!

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Eric:

      It’s always fun when you drop by!

      ‘Devil in the Blue Dress’ is definitely worth the time and effort to seek out and enjoy. An all around great, though oddly under rated film with few noticeable flaws, solid performances and best efforts from the director and crew.

      You’re welcome. Shining lights on films is what I do.

  7. Hi, Jack and Company 😉

    Never seen “Devil in a Blue Dress”, but I love Don Cheadle. Who doesn’t. I love Boogie Nights, Out of Sight, Hotel Rwanda… the man’s had a bunch of great roles! 😀

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Fogs and company: 😉

      It’s because of Mr. Franklin’s efforts that I’ve explored Mr. Cheadle’s earlier and later works. Creating a decent foil to Courtney Vance’s Doc in ‘Hamburger Hill’. More than holding his own in ‘Rosewood’ and later, ‘Boogie Nights’, ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and ‘Talk to Me’.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  8. I’ve actually grown an appreciation for Don Cheadle. I’ve never seen Devil in a Blue Dress, but man, like Fogs’ said, he has had a bunch of great roles. I like him in Crash, Traitor, Ocean’s Eleven, and in several other parts.

    A nice choice here!

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