Dead Again Reviews
The big flaw with Dead Again is that there is almost no logic to this whole reincarnation thing. I thought they were setting it up that the anklet was what brought the magic to keep the lovers together, but I never felt like they made that true because everyone talked as if this happened all the time. In fact the point of the anklet itself was completely lost on me, even though they treated it like some vital token. And why would they be reincarnated in bodies that are identical but *spoilers* identical to the other person?! I'm not sure whether I'm being too picky, or these were actual problems, but for some reason I wasn't buying into it.
There were some elements in Dead Again where I questioned the tone. It seemed as though they were taking everything dead seriously, but then there were moments where things seemed so off-the-wall that I had to chuckle. The biggest was when they walked into the art studio with all the ridiculous scissor art. The entire film so aggressively clung to its themes in this way, that it was kind of comical. I didn't hate the movie, in fact I kind of liked aspects of it. I'm usually pretty forgiving of mystery films anyways. That being said, I still didn't think the plot of Dead Again worked all that well, and I doubt I'll be seeking it out for a rewatch in the future.
Kenneth Branagh, more or less, asks us to do the same thing with "Dead Again", a mystery/thriller/fantasy/romance/film noir (yes, it is comprised of that many genres) that spirals into the realms of lustrous cinema, defying explanation. This isn't the kind of movie that hits you over the head with its pragmatism, though; it is, rather, a sweeper in the same category of a Michael Curtiz sudser. You lose yourself in its reverie. Branagh has done something highly original here, even if it does eventually get trapped within the stickiness of its many convulsions. It takes the best components of a 1940s melodrama, the finest ingredients of a neo-noir, and concocts something simultaneously retro and modern. The results travel back and forth between head-scratching and engrossing, but remaining is Branagh's knowing eye for film, and what makes it so magical in the first place.
"Dead Again" introduces itself with a slap and a bang of headlines. Vintage newspapers are slammed in our faces, enthusiastically announcing the murder of Margaret Strauss (Emma Thompson), a prominent concert pianist. The world has decided that her husband, composer Roman Strauss (Branagh), is guilty, and, without missing a beat, grabs him by the hand and leads him to the electric chair. If this isn't a tragic romance, then I don't know what is. The film then transitions into a black-and-white setting, moments before Strauss's death; we think we're about to get a full-blooded noir homage of "The Man Who Wasn't There" dedication, but not quite.
Just as things are about to get interesting, bang!: the sensibilities of modern filmmaking techniques fill the screen. The jump from 1948 to 1991 is startling; but even more startling are the characters we come to meet. One is an amnesiac named Grace (Thompson); the other is a private detective, Mike Church (Branagh). And no, these fictional entities are not merely the result of prominent actors playing dual roles. Mike is called by a friend to try to help Grace figure out her true identity -- but things, expectedly, turn out to be much more complicated than ever expected. It seems that Grace can only recall the details of Margaret Strauss's life, and Mike, as realistic as he is, is beginning to experience similar sensations.
They enlist the help of an eccentric hypnotist (Derek Jacobi) who doubles as an antique dealer. Throughout their many encounters, it becomes abundantly clear that Mike and Grace may very well be the reincarnations of the doomed Strauss's; and romance, along with danger, are following close behind.
"Dead Again" is borderline ludicrous, but doubts arrive long after the film is over; we're kept too busy to notice a flaw. Unlike Branagh's many other movies, this is not a film only for the intellectual crowd. It is also for those who are (a) looking for a glorious romantic thriller, or (b) are huge fans of classic cinema. It's popcorn entertaining, easy to absorb and hard to dislike. Our brains are buzzing, our hearts pounding with the promise of romance, suspense. Branagh takes a number of risks (how about that unexpected ending?), considering he photographs every Strauss flashback in magnificent black-and-white and fancies the tracking shot techniques of Hitchcock. Most pay off; the twists are what weaken the film, not its cinematic techniques.
But I suppose I'm only nitpicking. One shouldn't complain about such things when talking about a movie that places reincarnation at its front-and-center. Fact is, Thompson and Branagh are wonderful together (they were husband and wife during filming, after all), and "Dead Again" is ingenious in its aesthetic and conception. It doesn't go as deep as one would hope, turning out to be much simpler than originally expected (considering its many complications). But this is grand escapism that ties a cherry knot in our minds and leaves us intrigued.