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?