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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Dead Again

From the Cinematic Vault: I found this years-old review of “Dead Again” lurking in the vault in a “Misc.” folder. Its original formatting suggested web-based publication, but I can’t recall where that might have been. And its brevity suggests there was a word-count imposed, as this is far shorter than I usually write.


With a gorgeous interplay between film noir nastiness and the neo-natural ‘90s, Kenneth Branagh’s second as-director movie “Dead Again” is a superb suspense thriller, laced with just the right amount of comedy and very tongue-in-cheek tribute to great films of the past. The 30-year-old Branagh, who scored an immense critical success with “Henry V,” is going to be the popular darling of Hollywood once this film starts ringing what are bound to be substantial receipts.

Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson
Real-life wife Emma Thompson is a frightened, mute beauty who turns up at a Catholic boys school in Los Angeles. She’s handed over to amiable P.I. Mike Church – played by Branagh – who tries, against his better judgment, to find her family. Instead, thanks to the looney ministrations of shrink-turned-grocer Robin Williams and antique dealer-hypnotist Derek Jacobi, we’re thrown into a roller-coaster ride that involves the 1949 murder of a concert pianist (Thompson) by her composer husband (Branagh). It’s just possible that the modern-day couple is a reincarnation of the ill-fated musicians.

The script, by Scott Frank, has wonderfully unexpected twists, and even the few inconsistencies left hanging when it’s over don’t matter at all in the face of so stylish an execution. Branagh is just as masterful behind the camera, drawing superb performances from all in a dizzying spree of exciting cinematography, as he is in front of it, pulling off a difficult dual role with ease. Look for the Citizen Kane-like gate in front of the Strauss house, the Rebecca-homage Judith Anderson performance by Hanna Schygulla, Hitchcock closeups of an elevator works and a fast-paced, tense finale with the style of Orson Welles’s “The Stranger.”

But don’t think this film is all tribute – it’s an intelligent, well-crafted movie that doesn’t wear its indebtedness on its sleeve but instead borrows skillfully for its own good. And be sure to sit through the closing credits for one more taste of the terrific score.

Dead Again
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi,  Andy Garcia, and Robin Williams

– Originally Published Somewhere on the Web, 1991

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