Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Written by Scott Frank
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi, Robin Williams, Wayne Knight
When Kenneth Branagh burst on the scene, he was a wonder. Writer, director, actor, and a sensation for taking Henry V – a Shakespeare play that had already been filmed to production – and getting nominated for two Oscars. People wondered what he’d do next, and the result was Dead Again.
Mike Church (Branagh), a private eye, is guilted into investigating the origins of a mysterious woman (Emma Thompson), who showed up, unable to speak and suffering from amnesia. After some investigation, he is led to Franklyn Madson (Derek Jacobi), a hypnotist who thinks he can help. Mike is skeptical, but it leads them to a long-ago murder where composer Roman Strauss (Branagh) is executed for the murder of his wife Margaret (Thompson). With the help of disgraced psychiatrist Cozy Carlisle (Robin Williams*), he begins to unravel the mystery, which seems to have continued to the present day.
The movie is often described as “film noir,” but it’s better called a Hitchcockian pastiche. It feels like a Hitchcock film, with the suspense thick and the visuals dramatic. Branagh’s roles are also well played, with Mike being a disheveled PI type, and Roman as a European artiste. Emma Thompson was establishing herself as one of the top actresses of the time, and Derek Jacobi was as good as he always is.
The movie was a critical and commercial success. Branagh’s directing career continued strongly with his Shakespeare adaptations, but dropped off at time went on. His work outside of Shakespeare has not been successful, and he’s now better known as an actor, especially in Wallender.
But Dead Again is filmmaking at its best – bravura, cleverly plotted, and a pleasure to watch. It hooks you in and keeps you guessing and never lets up.
*Williams was uncredited at his own request, so moviegoers wouldn’t be misled in to believing the film was a comedy.