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Overall Rating
4.3

Awesome69.64%
Worth A Look: 12.5%
Average: 7.14%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 10.71%

1 review, 50 user ratings


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Dead Man
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Poetry written with blood."
5 stars

Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" is a pristine and delicate mood piece -- or, at least, as delicate as a movie with such alarming incidents of violence can be.

Surely it wasn't his intention, but Jarmusch, in opting for black and white photography (world-class D.P. Robby Müller did the honors, in a portfolio of lush, stark beauty that warrants inclusion among the all-time finest achievements of cinematography), found a way around the MPAA's overactive gag reflex. Certainly such images as a fresh corpse's skull crushed under an assassin's heavy boot, followed by a sprightly dual jet of blood through the nose, would have dared an NC-17 rating if shot in color.

The first five minutes -- the deceptively lugubrious train journey of William Blake (Johnny Depp) to the hellish town of Machine, where an accountancy job supposedly awaits him -- show you exactly why Jarmusch dismissed color this time out. Jarmusch must've seen how much fun David Lynch had with b&w portraits of ancient chugging machinery in The Elephant Man and decided to join in. Watching the black steam of the engine befouling the gray-metal sky as rusty gears churn, you may forget to breathe as you realize how seldom you see true examples of black-and-white artwork at the movies these days. Blake sits through the train ride, sometimes glancing out the window, sometimes leafing through a pamphlet with odd advertisements, often nodding off (the movie keeps helpfully fading to black, as if turning the lights out for him). Your first indication that this is a Jarmusch movie, and not just a radical change of milieu, is Crispin Glover's appearance as a soot-covered engine worker who sits across from Blake and expresses bottomless hostility while barely maintaining a poker face.

Blake arrives in Machine, where a towering Robert Mitchum (in his final screen performance -- a good one to go out on) points a rifle at him and denies any such job waiting for him. The dejected Blake detains himself at a boarding house with a tenuously reformed whore (Mili Avital); they are interrupted in bed by her estranged beau (Gabriel Byrne), leading to gunplay that results in two and a half corpses. The half corpse is Blake himself, carrying a bullet in his frame not deep enough to kill him outright but too deep to dig out. The latter fact is discovered by Nobody (Gary Farmer), an Indian who happens across Blake's unconscious body. Nobody, it turns out, is a scholar of poetry; hearing Blake's name, he takes the white man for the William Blake -- "You are a poet and a painter, and now, William Blake, you are a killer of white men." Blake isn't inclined to argue. He's been a nobody himself; now, at least, he gets to be somebody, even if it's somebody else.

The movie proceeds slowly and digressively, like an Anthony Mann Western chilled out and left to thaw, wedded to a drizzly and mournful fuzz-guitar score by Neil Young; sometimes you feel it should've been titled Deadpan. As if to compensate for the inexpressive-by-design Depp (few actors can do as much with as little facial animation as Depp can) and the stoically bemused Nobody, Jarmusch fills this text's margins with antic performers -- Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, and Jared Harris turn up, bickering around a campfire; Alfred Molina, a smilingly racist trader who offers Nobody pox-ridden blankets and obsequiously seeks Blake's autograph; Lance Henriksen is a cartoonishly vicious assassin, with Michael Wincott as his partner, filling the air with raspy, inconsequential observations. For a while the narrative plays out as a collection of anecdotes, a horseback road movie; then, as Blake draws nearer to death and makes it to Nobody's village, Jarmusch goes all the way into mysticism and absurdity.

I know (and have read) several people who have no patience for the elaborate dawdling in Dead Man. It's true that if you attempt to catch it at too late an hour, you may nod off along with Blake -- that opening sequence is a test. But both times I've seen it, I was held by Depp's transformation from white-man non-entity to the Jarmusch version of the affectless Man With No Name, blandly asking an antagonist "Do you know my poetry?" before delivering a short lead haiku. Physically beautiful, temperamentally reflective, "meaningless" scene for scene until you ponder it afterward, the film is itself a poem -- a meditation on death that shrugs at life but then moves beyond a shrug.

If you have the stomach for its wanderings, and its "poetry written with blood," this is an original and masterful achievement. Dead on the surface (even the photography has the grim authority of the slab), it comes to life, vampire-like, in your head days later.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=578&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/25/06 13:06:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/07/13 Nobody Dead Man is about every man. 5 stars
3/31/13 Degrelle Superb visual and auditory experience.Everything is right in this movie. 5 stars
3/25/13 Sia Sharif Such a great movie 5 stars
6/26/11 DR Poetic, Beautiful, and Meaningful. Painfully mis-understood by the proles of society. 5 stars
6/07/11 K.Garrein Probably my all time favorite movie, wonderful trip 5 stars
7/05/10 PAUL SHORTT ENJOYABLE, ONE-OF-A-KIND WESTERN 4 stars
6/29/10 Timm Favorite movie ever, if in its own category.. This is your western on cough syrup. 5 stars
11/08/09 Liberty Man Fell asleep 3 times trying to get thru it. Painfully boring. 1 stars
6/05/09 Sugarfoot Really, it wasn't that good, I mean it was okay but nothing more 3 stars
12/16/07 mb Empty Package With Pleasant Backgournd 1 stars
11/14/07 TreeTiger Very strange - but actually pretty good... 4 stars
6/27/07 fools♫gold Verystrange howthere'snothingelse tothefilm exceptJohnnyDepp and beautiful black and white. 5 stars
9/19/06 PD This one you get or you don't. If you do, you'll likely enjoy it alot. 5 stars
8/17/06 ALDO Extremely Pointless film. Goes nowhere after the first 15 mins.. Boring !! 1 stars
6/15/06 Reklc Funny, tragic and not takin itself very seriously (but still great)! 5 stars
12/19/05 Bree Extremely misunderstood film. 5 stars
8/11/05 Naka What the hell? No, seriously, WHAT THE HELL? 1 stars
6/15/05 tatum Nice to look at, but deadly slow 4 stars
5/23/05 Jeb Bush It's better not to travel with a dead man. 5 stars
3/28/05 indrid cold Ponderous and pretentous; Jarmusch doesn't have a single interesting thing to say. 3 stars
3/27/05 Jack Sommersby Jarmusch's and Depp's best film. A masterpiece and genuine work of art. 5 stars
9/13/04 wovengold Meditative and strange. 5 stars
5/15/04 jezfromhell Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop and Crispin Glover in the Old West--who could ask for more? 4 stars
1/17/04 John doesn't know the first thing about being a good western - pretentious and boring 1 stars
12/14/03 Agent Sands (previously Mr. Hat) A damn good western. Extreme violence, great acting from great actors, great filmmaking. 5 stars
8/20/03 othree sucks me in everytime, great cast, a better depp potential 5 stars
7/17/03 kick ya HAh THis MoViE iz SOOOOOOo SHit HaH Ha wow fuck its bad 1 stars
7/03/03 The Man Probably the best looking movie I've ever seen 5 stars
5/04/03 peggy great zen western 5 stars
5/04/03 sleepy something new, everytime you watch this film. 5 stars
5/04/03 manuelle simply the best movie i've ever seen 5 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby An breathtakingly original masterpiece. Depp is phenomenal. 5 stars
11/17/02 PsiSeeker A unique film well worth seeing! Gary Farmer makes this movie for me. 5 stars
2/03/02 Erikoll One of the 5 best movies of the nineties. Hypnotic. 5 stars
1/07/02 bcguy95006 Great cinematography, beautiful character development. One of my favorites. 5 stars
12/11/01 slappy jacks hauntingly beautiful and hypnotic a true masterpiece 5 stars
9/23/01 mleonard quite different from his other films; love johnny depp 4 stars
7/03/01 The Stuff Thought it would be great after seeing Ghost Dog last year. But shit its really boring.... 3 stars
8/08/00 Mic Interesting look but what's it REALLY about? Does even Jarmusch know? 3 stars
7/03/00 Lauri A. As you US bastards say: awesome 5 stars
6/13/00 PJ Jarmusch rules!! great cinematography, Depp is one of the greatest actors, beautiful 5 stars
5/30/00 Add This is a great film. Just to many reasons to list why u should see it, so just see it! 5 stars
4/14/00 ChiefAlDog One of my favorite flicks. Niel Young score worked. "Stupid, fucking white man." 5 stars
12/09/99 Carlos G Lamas A gripping tale full of delicious symbolism. 5 stars
7/07/99 little jerry Borderline pretentious but leaves a strong impression.Loved the eerily flat shoot-outs. 5 stars
1/21/99 cinebimbo Possibly the best independent film of all time 5 stars
11/24/98 {{{OZ}}} "Nobody" rules all hell. He deserves his own film. Loved it. 5 stars
11/12/98 Jules Very interesting film, I loved the unusual editing and scene changes. 4 stars
8/31/98 Mister Whoopee I too liked this film, but I know I'm in the minority. 4 stars
8/24/98 The Capital City Goofball Fucking... LOVED.. this movie. "Nobody" is my fave character in any film EVER. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  17-May-1996 (R)
  DVD: 12-Apr-2011

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Jim Jarmusch

Written by
  Jim Jarmusch

Cast
  Johnny Depp
  Gary Farmer
  Robert Mitchum
  John Hurt
  Gabriel Byrne
  Billy Bob Thornton



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