Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dead Again Again (1991) is an innovative and intelligent contemporary noir film directed by Kenneth Branagh with a really original premise. I'm not going to go into the plot in depth, because watching it unravel is one of the joys of this film. I will tell you that Kenneth Branagh plays a detective, Mike Church, who tries to help an amnesia victim (Emma Thompson) recover her memories with the help of a hypnotist (Derek Jacobi). Andy Garcia and Robin Williams have interesting small parts and Seinfeld fans may be surprised to see "Newman" (Wayne Knight) turn up as Church's assistant.

The movie takes on the conventions of noir, and most of the familiar tropes are here: a beautiful, possibly deadly lady in distress, supposedly helpful people leading the detective astray, and lots of scenes of driving around Los Angeles chasing down leads. The plot has enough twists for a couple of M. Night Shyamalan movies and benefits from an amazingly able cast. If anything the acting talent is almost a bit distracting. Not that they over- play their roles, but it can be difficult to forget that you are watching some of the most accomplished Shakespearean actors alive doing what amounts to a pulp thriller.

I think the reason Branagh, Jacobi and Thompson were drawn to the material is that it becomes a philosophical meditation on reality and imagination and deals with a lot of themes that are present in Hamlet in particular. What is sanity? What is reality? What is the point of revenge? Once a cycle of murder and revenge is set in motion, can anything stop it? Do we have free will or are we the pawn of fate? What if we are just acting out a drama that has occurred before? Is there an afterlife and can it connect with this life? Who is real and who is a "player?" All that sounds like pretty heady stuff for noir, but I promise that the Dead Again is completely entertaining in a surface way as well.

The ending of the movie is a bit of a mess. The final action is 30 seconds drawn out to five minutes of slow motion with confused editing. I could see that Branagh was aiming for a bit of Vertigo mixed with Spellbound, but he is no Alfred Hitchcock. There are worse sins than for a movie to be too ambitious and the strength of Dead Again is that you probably be thinking about it long after it's over.


AbbyNormal said...

I watched this one when it first came out on DVD .. which would have put me in my late teenage years. I was just discovering the world of movies really. I don't remember everything about this one, but I remember being completely mesmerized. I thought it was a great film but of course, I hadn't really seen many films at all yet. I have thought about this film off and on in the past decade and a half and meant to pick it up to see if I would still like it as much as I did.

If you like it, I am pretty sure I would still be as fascinated in it as ever. I really should revisit this one.

Jennythenipper said...

Do revisit it! And I still 'ship Brannagh and Thompson even though they broke up ages ago. Best screen couple of our time. Bad helena Bonham Carter. Bad.