Blu-ray review: “Dead Again” (1991)

“Dead Again” (1991)

Drama/Thriller

Running time: 107 minutes

Written by: Scott Frank

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Featuring: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Andy García, Derek Jacobi, Wayne Knight and Robin Williams

Cozy Carlisle: “Someone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that. If you’re a nonsmoker, you’ll know.”

Critical Commentary

Released on Blu-ray for the first time almost anywhere is the Kenneth Branagh directed and starring fantasy noir thriller “Dead Again” (1991), which was also his first Hollywood movie after making waves with his Shakespearean adaptation “Henry V” (1989), that was nominated for three Oscars, both also feature then wife Emma Thompson in the co-lead roles. There is much to enjoy about “Dead Again”, it operates very well for what it is a thriller that spans two seperate time period with elements of reincarnation or mysticism thrown in for good measure. Of course having Branagh as director lends the movie some immediate credibility, and now decades later having screenwriter Scott Frank included seems prescient, it also shows the budding screenwriter trying something unique for such an early effort.

There is much to really enjoy with “Dead Again”, not only is it a period thriller as well as containing fantastical elements that could almost be called ‘real’, at least treated that way within the narrative which is actually refreshing. The movie not only plays with that period aspect but juxtaposes it with the modern world with a Holy Grail aspect that feels fun with stops along the way to meet wild and interesting people within both timelines. The movie also gives the opportunity for the leads to play two parts with different agencies of character as well as looking at inherited traits while combining it with a very recognisable genre or even sub-genre.

The movie begins with shots of newspapers that detail the 1949 murder of Margaret Strauss, who was stabbed during a robbery; her anklet is missing. Her husband, composer Roman Strauss, is found guilty of the crime and condemned to death. Before his execution, Roman is visited by reporter Gray Baker. Asked if he killed Margaret, Roman appears to whisper something in Gray’s ear. Baker does not disclose Roman’s answer. Forty years later, private detective Mike Church investigates the identity of a woman who has appeared at the orphanage where he grew up. She has amnesia, cannot speak and has nightmares. Mike takes her in and asks his friend, Pete Dugan, to publish her picture and his contact information. Antiques dealer and hypnotist Franklyn Madson approaches Mike, suggesting that hypnosis may help her recover her memory. “Dead Again” follows familiar tropes with archetypal characters which many might find familiar, a good thing for what it brings up in terms of the fantasy element which I actually really enjoyed.

After such a successful debut as “Henry V” it was interesting that Branagh chose this movie as a follow-up but the one thing that the director has proven a love for is genre movies which a part from his Shakespearean efforts his oeuvre is littered with. The director and writer, here collaborate using false narrators, black and white footage, flashbacks, a lot of high profile actors and a plot that weaves the natural chemistry both Branagh and Thompson have together being partners at this time in business and of a personal nature.

The casting of Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in the leads was a no brainer at this stage in both their careers, they have great chemistry and play two characters each with skill as well as believability which is saying something considering the leaps in narrative that they both take. It is interesting that this movie has become a mediation on relationship in real life, not literally but it may not be a coincidence that the couples relationship is tested here in fiction and later in reality. The same kind of thing is present, although with “Dead Again” to a far lessor extent, in “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) with a real life couple, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, putting their own relationship thought the ropes which ultimately ended in divorce. “Dead Again” also cast a number of high profile actors that obviously wanted to work with Branagh, so we have Andy García, Derek Jacobi, Wayne Knight and Robin Williams all making great contributions, they would also appear in other Branagh movies.

Now while this movie has dated and the plot and narrative may seem a little simple it is still a welcome addition to any collection, it still has some pretty major talent and pedigree behind it, with the launching of a host of Hollywood careers in not only Branagh, Thompson, Scott Frank but also introduced audiences to a group of people that would shape movies for the next four decades.

Technical commentary

Video

Imprint have transferred Kenneth Branagh’s “Dead Again” to Blu-ray. It is on a dual-layered disc with a high bitrate, in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and looks very consistent in 1080P. It is very clean with a few light speckles, plenty of depth and impressive detail in close-ups. There is grain – not in abundance but is visible not appearing to be scrubbed. Mostly looking solid it does have a few scenes that showcase the HD presentation very well.

Audio

Imprint give the option of a very robust DTS-HD Master 5.1 surround track or a linear PCM stereo track (both 24-bit) in the original English language. There are some surprising separations and the film’s audio is a significant part of the viewing experience.

Special Features

  • 1080p High Definition Presentation
  • Audio commentary with producer Lindsay Doran and screenwriter Scott Frank (2002)
  • Audio commentary with director and star Kenneth Branagh (2002)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1

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