Reviewed by: Brett Willis
1 hr. 47 min.
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia, Hanna Schygulla, Robin Williams, Wayne Knight, Gregor Hesse, Campbell Scott | Director: Kenneth Branagh | Writer: Scott Frank | Producers: Lindsay Doran, Dennis Feldman, Charles H. Maguire, Sydney Pollack | Released By: Paramount
As an example of Kenneth Branagh’s artistry and of creative cross-genre filmmaking, “Dead Again” stands out. But its overall effect (in addition to the effects common to most R-rated films) is the promotion of a very dangerous worldview.
Late-1940s newspaper clippings about Roman and Margaret Strauss during the opening credits blend into a prison scene of Roman about to be executed, which turns out to be the present-day nightmare of a troubled, amnesiac young woman (Branagh’s then-wife and frequent costar Emma Thompson). Good-hearted private investigator Mike Church (Branagh) tries to help the woman discover her true identity. [In the B&W 1940s scenes, Branagh and Thompson also play the Strausses.]
Content Warnings: The language is extreme in spots. There’s no visible sexual activity, but it’s implied that both sets of the Branagh/Thompson characters have nonmarital sex. There are some violent deaths. And the “fate/reincarnation” message permeates the story. There’s one additional point in that regard that I’d like to warn the viewer about, but cannot lest I give away a major plot twist. Branagh tricks the audience to an extent seldom seen in mainstream films. Some viewers will want to go through the movie a second time to see how they were tricked the first time. (Is Branagh dumb like a fox, or what?)
Positive Content: This is a hard one. Perhaps the anti-smoking message (something liberals and conservatives can agree on). Andy Garcia’s character is a chain-smoker in the 1940s sequences; in the 1990s sequences he’s an old man who’s dying and speaks with a throat amplifier, but still smokes cigarettes through his tracheostomy. Lest anyone think this is an exaggeration of reality, I once saw a patient in a VA hospital cafeteria who had his entire lower jaw cut away, but stuck a six-foot-long rubber tube into his tracheostomy and put a cigarette into the other end of the tube (so he could hold the cigarette at arm’s length while puffing).
Year of Release—1991