Dead Again (1991)
Director: Kenneth Branagh Rating: R Runtime: 1 hr 48 min
Studio: Paramount Screenwriter: Scott Frank
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Robin Williams, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi
What if there isn’t a heaven or hell to go to when we die? What if we come back as something else, someone else? If it was all fate. Would you change how you live your life? In Dead Again, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in karma or not; it happens anyway.
To appreciate a story like this, you need to be open to reincarnation as a plot vehicle. The story moves back and forth between two events in Los Angeles, CA, one in 1948 and the other forty-years later. It’s easy to follow along with the shifts because the past appears in black and white. While this wasn’t the original intent of the director, it works. Post World War II, the noir look is quite fitting.
A married couple, Roman and Margaret Strauss, have issues with jealousy, money, and job security—those are attributes relatable to many marriages. The majority don’t end in murder, however. The ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions to be answered in this film are intertwined. It’s the unfolding of the past events and how they relate to the present that provides answers.
How do you get answers about a past life? You get hypnotized by an opportunistic antique dealer named Franklin, played by the amazing Derek Jacobi.
Roman Strauss/Mike Church, a musical composer/private detective, is played by Kenneth Branagh. Margaret/Grace, an orchestra player/artist, with amnesia is portrayed by Emma Thompson. Their depictions of their respective characters are well performed, infused with genuine chemistry.
Robin Williams plays Cozy Carlise, an ex-therapist turned grocery clerk who gives advice from a walk-in cooler. His character provides Mike with insight and advice that allows viewers to follow the theme that karma plays.
The well-developed characters, plot structure, pace, and tone of this film mesh together with Patrick Doyle’s musical compositions. It helps the entire film’s mood despite the vast differences in cultural tastes between the late 1940s and early 1990s.
Some may find the premise behind the plot ridiculous. Many will not. It’s refreshing to see a non-Christian based religious-belief system represented. It reaches out to more than just the ideals of the West. I first saw this a few years after it came out, and I wasn’t more than thirteen. Before this film, I had never heard of karma, past-lives, or reincarnation, so it expanded my brain to other notions than what I had been taught.
That insight is a positive takeaway. The downside is I probably shouldn’t have watched the end of this film, then. I was squeamish. As an adult viewer, the climax scene isn’t a shock, yet it’s not disappointing either. No one predictably says that “karma is a bitch,” but it’s certainly implied.
If you like mystery or thriller stories and try to figure out the ending before you get there, this movie should make it on your watch list. It’s an under appreciated chestnut of cinema worth your time.
—a pen lady