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1 review, 18 user ratings

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Dead Again
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by Erik Childress

"One of the Best Mysteries In Decades"
5 stars

Murder. Betrayal. Amnesia. Romance. Jealousy. Noir. Mystery. Secrets. Reincarnation. No itís not Peter Falkís classic description of The Princess Bride, but the ingredients for one of the best thrillers of the 1990s. Modern mysteries are usually a trifling, thankless exercise swimming in the shallow end of courtroom dramas, slasher films and predictable Keyser Soze-like twists. Kenneth Branaghís Dead Again was a fresh breath of air into the genre by exorcising the elements of a bygone era into a resurrection of how entertaining a great mystery can be.

Opening with a bravura credit sequence where the newspaper clippings of journalist Gray Baker (Andy Garcia) inform us of the murder of Margaret Strauss. Back in the 1940s after the war, her famous composer husband, Roman Strauss, was convicted and executed for her slaying, thanks in part to Bakerís damning writings. Flash forward some 40 years to an amnesiac (Emma Thompson) whose nightmares are haunted by the tale of the Straussí. The Catholic boys home that she hass stumbled upon hires former resident, now Private Investigator, Mike Church (Branagh) to help find her place in the world. Church is a bit of a cad who doesnít blink twice about bedding down his friendís relatives for one night stands, but after only one look at the voiceless, nameless woman he comes to know as Grace, he is instantly smitten. Or does he have another agenda in mind?

After trips to county hospital and newspaper ads prove futile, Madson (Derek Jacobi), an antiques dealer who dabbles in hypnotism comes calling and offers his assistance. During her initial regression, Grace starts what may very well be a past-life experience when she was Margaret Strauss, recounting the courtship that led up to her marriage to Roman and the gossip that threatened to tear them apart. Further sessions begin to piece together the missing elements of Graceís life as the past and the present begin to merge into a dangerous karmic cocktail that will test the trust of all the parties who have a connection to those tragic events.

Mike and Graceís correlation to the Straussís history is directly associated to the audienceís perception that Roman and Margaret are also played by Branagh and Thompson. Director Branagh and cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti use black-and-white to differentiate the past from the contemporary, a clever visual tactic to be sure, but also one that recalls the great gothic mysteries of the 40s such as Rebecca and Laura and expresses the sorrowful loss of time and true love.

Branagh the actor has a lot of fun with both roles, delving into his Shakespearean training for the brash and conflicted German and keeping a firm wink in his eye for the selfish, romantically-challenged L.A. detective. Branagh plays his scenes of twisty discovery as a perfect mirror for the viewerís own faces while making the same findings. Both him and Thompson (married at the time) find the right chemistry for both relationships while Jacobi puts in the right amount of playful mischief as the hypnotist who doesnít mind using his clients to find new items for his store. Robin Williams also has a great uncredited cameo as a disgraced psychiatrist who may know more than his share on the topic of past lives.

Visual pleasures and first-rate acting never to go unnoticed, but Dead Again succeeds in every respect thanks to Scott Frankís masterful screenplay. Frank, who has gone on to pen such respected titles like Out of Sight and Steven Spielbergís Minority Report, knows the power of the little details. Grand flashes can serve as a wonderful outline to any narrative, but itís the little things that transform a good idea into an ingenious piece of storytelling. The small particulars buried within Dead Again are the kind that only stand out upon a second viewing as little clues to the puzzle that will have you smacking your head in disbelief that you missed it the first go around.

Running jokes about smoking and Branaghís visual flair for the constant reminders about the murder weapon (scissors) both payoff in enormously satisfying fashion. Frank continues to raise new questions seemingly every minute and finds a way to answer them all without playing tricks on the audience. What is the truth behind the death of Romanís first wife? If Grace was Margaret, is the past destined to repeat itself? Is there even a mystery to be solved or is tragedy just in the cards?

Branagh was the new wunderkind in Hollywood after the critical acclaim of his debut production, Henry V, in 1989 had him labeled as the next Laurence Olivier. Dead Again proved Branagh was the real deal, displaying a true aptitude for the theatrics of cinema that would have made Hitchcock proud. Without taking us for dyslexic puppets, Branagh is able to realize Frankís screenplay and build suspense sans showing us the blueprints for why we should be tense. The blowing away of hair and the seemingly inconsequential piano player downstairs all furnish us with sequences that arenít foreshadowed to be suspenseful. Up-and-coming filmmakers should study how the use of a name can produce a bigger shock than the thousands of false-alarm cat sightings and musical stingers used to jolt viewers.

Great suspensers build their foundation on a cavalcade of backstory and slow-evolving first and second acts, until all the information comes crashing into itself only to be reexamined through plot twist after U-turn. Dead Again does just this, steering you headfirst into a final half hour whose destination keeps changing until the final fork in the road is plunked directly through your car horn and youíre propelled into a spinout. During my days as a video store employee, whenever someone would ask me for a great mystery or a great thriller, Dead Again was at the top of my list. If you havenít seen it yet, put it at the top of yours.

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originally posted: 06/19/02 09:56:03
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User Comments

4/09/11 Annoymous Dull and Stupid 2 stars
2/22/08 mr.mike Has all the twists and turns of....a routine Magnum PI episode. 3 stars
9/19/07 Janalynn Excellent neo noir and loved the twist at the end 5 stars
11/04/06 Steph In the tradition of good old fashioned B&W fun 4 stars
9/02/06 Lisa I've seen this movie about 30 times because it is one of my favorites! 5 stars
9/01/05 ES Suspenseful, it flips around, can't stay on one set of characters and bores to tears 2 stars
10/03/03 Lisa loved it 5 stars
5/27/03 Shadaan Felfeli Great opening credits sequence.I enjoyed it (Love Thompson) 4 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby Overrated, pretentious crap. 2 stars
9/30/02 Charles Tatum Good until awful "Pink Panther" looking conclusion 4 stars
9/16/02 David King one of my all-time favorites, everything a movie should be 5 stars
7/11/02 R.W. Welch Clever enough but has an air of artifice about it. 3 stars
6/20/02 Charles R.L. Power Greatest anti-smoking film ever made, among other merits 5 stars
1/23/02 Spider I was very disappointed, too stiff, clumsy, and unconvincing. 2 stars
7/12/01 Monday Morning Great movie with real "cutting edge" ending. HAR-HAR! 5 stars
2/14/01 Jake engrossing suspense 5 stars
11/04/99 Karahde Khan Overrated Vertigo-wannabe that perfectly evidences that Branagh is in love with himself. 2 stars
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  23-Aug-1991 (R)

  02-Feb-1992 (15)

  02-Feb-1992 (M)

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