Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Dead Again (1991)
Studio Line: Paramount Pictures - How many times can you die for love?

Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh (Henry V) and Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Howard's End) give dazzling dual-role performances in this supernatural-tingled romantic murder mystery.

Mike Church (Branagh) is a L.A. gumshoe with a knack for tossing off wisecracks and tracking down missing persons. But Church doesn't have a clue when he's hired to help a beautiful amnesia victim (Thompson) tormented by blood-curdling nightmares. Then an eccentric antiques dealer and hypnotist (Derek Jacobi) leads Church to a startling discovery: The source of the nightmares may lie in a past-life connection to Margaret Strauss, a world-famous pianist allegedly murdered by her composer husband…in 1948.

In the classic tradition of Spellbound and Rebecca, Dead Again "brings an entertaining genre back to life" (Tom Jacobs, Los Angeles Daily News).

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Andy Garcia, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Hanna Schygulla, Lois Hall, Richard Easton, Jo Anderson
Academy Awards: None
Box Office: Opening Weekend: $3.48 million. Gross: $38.02 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single side - single layer; 14 chapters; rated R; 107 min.; $29.99; street date 6/27/00.
Supplements: Commentary with Producer Linsay Doran & Screenwriter Scott Frank; Commentary with Director & Star Kenneth Branagh; Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - Patrick Doyle

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B+/B

One way to know that either you see too many movies or you just have poor memory happens when you get a DVD and can't recall if you'd seen the film already. That occurred when I received the DVD of 1991's Dead Again, a film noir-ish thriller directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh; it looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite remember if I'd already taken it in at some point.

As I watched the movie, I soon realized that I had seen it during its theatrical run; a few of the film's scenes were easily-identifiable, such as one in which an elderly character played by Andy Garcia demonstrates why smoking is a bad thing. However, I didn't remember much of the story or of the plot twists, which was a good thing. If I'd remembered more of the movie, it would have become a bit of a bore, for without plot twists, this wouldn't be much of a story.

Overall, DA creates a decent little thriller/detective story, but it seems clear that the various surprises are the meat of the matter. Make no mistake, the twists we find are good ones, though they make a discussion of the film difficult, as I don't want to give away any of the machinations. I just wish that the story had some reason to interest me other than the surprises.

DA tells the story of Grace (Emma Thompson), a woman who has developed amnesia and ends up in a mission that resides in a formerly-fabulous LA mansion. The powers-that-be there contact a former resident who now is a private detective; Mike Church (Branagh) agrees unenthusiastically to help try to find Grace's missing life.

Grace has nightmares about a murder from the Forties that involved composer Roman Strauss (also Branagh) and his wife Margaret. The story delves into the idea of reincarnation and karma and takes off onto some different turns as we explore the connections. It makes for some mild fun but remains nothing spectacular, though the twists help keep you interested.

At least DA features a strong cast, with supporting turns from Garcia and Derek Jacobi; the latter does especially fine work as the antique collector who also regresses Grace through hypnotherapy. Robin Williams turns up in an interesting role as something of a precursor of his part in Good Will Hunting; Cozy Carlisle is a former hot-shot psychiatrist who got out, but he helps steer Church in the right direction. Williams has made a second career of unbilled cameos in films like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Shakes the Clown, but he's actually part of the credits in DA, which surprised me.

As the leads, both Thompson and Branagh do well in their dual roles. Branagh tends to be a bit too broad in both parts, and I never quite bought his American accent; as also was the problem with Cate Blanchett's US-sound in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Branagh degenerates into a fairly bland, all-purpose flat and nasal tone that doesn't affect the part terribly negatively, but I found it to be distracting. Thompson fares better with her accent as Grace, but that occurs partly because she doesn't speak through much of the movie.

All accents aside, Dead Again makes for a moderately-compelling little thriller, but my overall impression of it is that it's nothing special. It contains some interesting plot twists but that's about it; the movie had little impact upon me in other ways.

The DVD:

Dead Again appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture seems generally good but nothing special.

Sharpness usually looks pretty clear and accurate, though a few scenes appear vaguely fuzzy for no apparent reason. Moiré effects and jagged edges cause no problems, and though a few artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV occur, they seem milder than usual. The print itself generally appears clean, with no signs of grain, scratches, or hairs, but moderate amounts of white and black speckles can be seen throughout the film.

Colors look fairly subdued but accurate, although a few scenes seem slightly oversaturated; for example, a segment in a darkroom shows red lighting the appears somewhat too heavy. Black levels look nicely dark and rich, and shadow detail generally remains light and appropriate, though some portions appear too dim and opaque. All in all, the film presents with a fairly nice picture, but these minor problems knock it down to a "B" rating.

Dead Again features a pretty decent Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for a movie from 1991, which occurred before Dolby Digital and DTS had entered the theatrical marketplace. The soundfield appears fairly modest, with some acceptable stereo imaging in the front speakers but without much of interest. The surrounds receive less use and usually only lightly reinforce the forward channels. The spectrum opens up nicely a few times during the film - some thunderstorms spring to mind - and those are the occasions during which it shows some spirit. However, the general usage of the soundfield seems acceptable but minor.

Some aspects of the audio quality help raise my rating to a "B+". Dialogue can appear a little edgy at times, but it always seems clear and intelligible. Other than a few bass-heavy noises such as thunder, effects appear a bit thin and hollow, though they remain acceptably realistic and lack distortion. What helps elevate this track, however, is the terrific quality of the music. From start to finish, the score sounds bright and bold and offers some fine dynamic range; the low end really adds a nice wallop to the package and helps make the whole soundtrack more effective.

Although Dead Again isn't a special edition, it does include a few supplemental features, mainly in the form of audio commentaries. We get two of these tracks on the DVD. The first comes from actor/director Kenneth Branagh. He offers a chatty and engaging presence who rarely lets any empty space pass. Branagh provides a lot of good information on the film and does this in a breezy, entertaining manner; overall, it's a very good track.

The second commentary offers remarks from producer Lindsey Doran and writer Scott Frank. Overall, their statements are pretty interesting as they provide a nice look at the creation of the project and provide a variety of details about problems encountered and changes made along the way. They also have some fun with the film as mock a few of the conventions of the genre and parts of the movie that are less than realistic. The track features an unfortunately high number of empty gaps, though. Despite those periodic frustrations, I still liked the commentary and found that it added to my enjoyment of the film.

In addition to the audio commentaries, the only other extra is the film's theatrical trailer. Although there aren't a lot of features here, something is better than nothing, and two audio commentaries are certainly good places to get some solid details about a film.

Dead Again has enough going for it that I wish I liked the movie more than I do. However, I simply found the piece as a whole to remain largely bland and uncompelling. It features a solid cast and provides some fun plot twists, but that's about it. Fans of the genre or of the actors may want to give it a whirl, but that's about all I can recommend.

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