A Neo-Noir with fine performances and a fun set of twists — like only … opera can deliver.
As a child I loved Shakespeare, so as a teengaer I was one of those theatre kids. What else was I going to be in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, PA? In the 90’s, if you were a theatre kid, there were a couple of things you were required to know about: The Phantom of The Opera and Kenneth Branagh.
I’ll save a Phantom post (or three) for another time, right now let’s talk about Branagh, and specifically his film ‘Dead Again.’
This little puzzle of a film has Hitchockian sensibilities that lend an easy language for the film to use. It features twists that are so much fun they’ll make you long for the theater so you can hear others gasp at their reveal. It’s a fun movie — that moves so fast I’m always surprised that it’s 1 hour, 48 minutes.
The two parallel stories — one told in black and white and the other in color (apparent later decision by Branagh and a great one) — show just how messy linked souls can be.
The black and white story is the one of Margaret and Roman Strauss (played by Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh — they were married at the time) — a world-famous conductor and his musician wife — as they go through some challenges. Namely, that Margaret thinks the maid and her son are taking too much from Roman — and Roman thinks that his wife is getting a bit too close to Gray Baker, a reporter. It all ends with Margaret dead, stabbed to death with scissors, a beautiful anklet stolen — and Roman behind bars for her murder.
43 years later, in color (ha!), an amnesiac woman unable to speak (Emma Thompson) turns up at the orphanage where reporter Mike Church (Kenneth Branagh) grew up. He gets his friend, Pete (Wayne Knight) to publish her picture and story in the paper in the hopes that more information could be found. An antiques dealer named Franklin (Derek Jacobi) who likes to hypnotize people (and try to get information on any antiques they may know about) contacts Roman and suggests that hypnosis might help her recover her memories.
Mike nicknames her ‘Grace’ and starts to fall in love with her, and the two begin to unravel their past and present.
I’m not going to say any more about the plot, because chances are you haven’t seen it, and I’d like you to. So — if you’ve not seen it, go watch it, and then c’mon back.
I’ve started doing something new and really, really exciting for me. I love stories, storytellers, and films — and I’ve teamed up with an exceptional storyteller and fan of movies Cameron Cloutier. You’ve heard me mention him when I talked about his exceptional work “Queen of Hearts” which added so much to the Twin Peaks storyline. Well, Cameron also runs a YouTube Channel, called “Obnoxious and Anonymous” (he’s neither). I’ve started regularly working with him to talk about movies we love, movies we like, movies we think could be better — we’re just going to talk about movies. And both of us have eclectic, wild tastes are generally pretty fearless and frank. I love it. The first movie we did, a bit ago (if you want to keep up subscribe to his YouTube) was — you guessed it, Dead Again.
We arrived at this movie geeking out over Sir Ken — particularly his Hamlet — and what got me excited was to know another person who had seen Hamlet.
Weirdly for me, Dead Again was a super accessible movie for me to be able to see (I actually didn’t see Henry V until after I had seen Much Ado About Nothing and Dead Again). When I saw it, I really felt like this was a movie just made to enchant me. Why? Let’s talk about that.
Noir films were some of my grandmother’s favorites. She and my father raised me, so this means I watched an enormous amount of noir movies. There’s something comfortable about their hard-boiled world for me. Dead Again isn’t a straight up hard boiled noir detective story — it’s certainly a relative to one. The tight, snappy dialogue, the high contrast black and white scenes, the build of tension — all of these definitely borrow from the language of noir — so certainly Dead Again shares a lot of the elements. Direct comparisons to the genre can bring some fun questions: Is Emma Thompson a femme fatale? Is she or Roman the anti-hero figure?
Branagh, Thompson, and Garcia
These three in this film are, simply, beautiful (well, Garcia looks a bit rough in at least one of his scenes). Branagh and Thompson are, of course, have twice the work to do. I particularly love how, once you know the twists, you can see that they borrow from each other’s physical performance and postures to make those connections more explicit.
Go Big Or Go Home
This film is ambitious. Nothing in it is small, and the reason this film is so much fun is that Branagh set his sights on doing something big, fun, and that was going to be challenging. This movie is like smashing opera and noir together: two such large storytelling syles are going to result in a large, ambitious movie. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is a subtle performance, and not his usual. I loved it.
If you’re looking for a big, fun, well-made movie that has romance, intrigue, and a splash of suspense — this is well worth the time you give it.