1991, R, 107 min. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Robin Williams, Andy Garcia, Hanna Schygulla, Campbell Scott.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 30, 1991
Hopelessly muddled but doggedly entertaining, Dead Again resurrects film noir as a supernatural thriller in which the Big Sleep ain't necessarily a permanent one. The conceit in Scott Frank's imaginative screenplay is a karmic one: Are two lovers, one of whom supposedly murdered the other, destined to repeat their fate in the next life? By the time Dead Again answers that question, it has taken a couple of narrative turns that will leave you in the lurch, but it's a great ride nevertheless. Aside from the lack of perfect symmetry in its plot, the script also leaves its secondary characters dangling, with the exception of Jacobi, who is a real treat as the hypnotist whose sessions tie the past and the present together. (The black-and-white flashbacks into the past provide the pieces to the puzzle in the present.) As the reincarnated lovers -- a private detective with a specialty for locating missing persons and a mute amnesiac without an identity -- Branagh and Thompson (both sporting flawless American accents) made a good team, although their attraction to each other is more pragmatic than romantic. (Married in real life, they convey the familiarity of two people who are comfortable with each other.) This movie might make Thompson a star; she's got that no-nonsense strength about her that you see in the best British actresses. In the role of director, Branagh punctuates many of the movie's scenes with a melodramatic flourish, such as when he pans from the modern-day lovers' kissing on the couch to ... a pair of scissors! (The script's repeated reference to scissors as a murder weapon definitely has Freudian implications.) Although these punctuation marks initially seem grammatically incorrect, as far as film grammar goes, you eventually warm to them upon realizing that Branagh just wants to have fun with this movie, which is at once operatic and silly. Dead Again marks a wise career move for Branagh, who was touted the new Olivier after the triumph of his surprisingly good remake of Henry V two years ago. Unlike Olivier, however, who took years to enjoy the vulgarities of his craft, Branagh seems to understand the stigma of the “Shakespearean actor/director.” And if Dead Again is any indication, he really may be a man for all seasons.