Customer Reviews: Dead Again
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on August 28, 1998
A brilliant and brilliantly-realized film using modern film techniques to evoke the best old films. A young woman suffering from amnesia and violent nightmares turns to a cynical private detective to help her uncover not only her present, but also explore her past, as they begin to suspect she's been reincarnated after a violent murder in the '40's. Kenneth Branagh directs a superb screenplay by Scott Frank and plays two roles (as does Emma Thompson and a few bit players). The film is shot in black and white AND color, with both stars using different accents and realizing two complete performances each. Cleverly, the script has characters both believing in -- and not believing in -- the idea of reincarnation, which gives depth and balance to both cynics and romantics in the audience. Beautiful film score by Patrick Doyle, which only heightens the melodrama. Everything about this film is tops (including an uncredited performance by Robin Williams -- and it's a gem). I'll never understand why it never received a single Oscar nomination -- Hollywood, you've done it again! If you truly love thrillers, this is one you can't afford to miss! END
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Although he received tremendous praise for his memorable film production of Shakespeare's HENRY V, DEAD AGAIN was the film that really introduced actor/director Kenneth Branagh to mainstream American film, and for a time he and then-wife Emma Thompson were the most celebrated acting couple since Olivier and Leigh. The marriage did not last, but fortunately this film did--and I say fortunately, for although it is somewhat forgotten today, DEAD AGAIN is an overlooked jewel of a film: classy, noir-ish, stylish, and very memorable indeed.
The story is fanciful. In the late 1940s noted composer Roman Strauss was convicted of mudering his noted pianist wife Margaret, and was sentenced to death. Some forty years later, a young woman suffering from amnesia falls into the hands of a no-nonsense Los Angeles private eye--and under hypnosis she recalls not her immediate past, but the lives of Roman and Margaret. Is this reincarnation? Is she Margaret Strauss? Is the private eye to whom she is attracted but of whom she is also strangely fearful the reincarnation of Roman Strauss, Margaret's killer? Is history repeating itself?
Scott Frank's clever script makes for a fast-paced, twisting, and fascinating plot-driven film--and it is flawlessly played by Branagh and Thompson, who assume dual roles as the 1940s Roman and Margaret Strauss and the 1980s Mike Church and Grace. The supporting cast is also excellent, with memorable performances by Andy Garcia and Derek Jacobi--and a truly exceptional cameo by Robin Williams, who here for the first time demonstrated that his talents went far beyond comedy. The shifts between past and present, nightmare and reality are exceedingly well done, and although the plot becomes more and more fantastic the entire film is so perfectly executed that one buys into it every step of the way.
If DEAD AGAIN has a flaw, it is that some of the twists and turns are predictable--but in the film's favor I must admit that it sweeps you along so quickly that you seldom have time to analyse that failing while you actually watch the film. It is also to a certain extent a "one trick pony" film; the film is at its most powerful upon a first viewing, when one is oblivious to what is coming. But even so, it is tremendously effective and it holds up as well today as when it first appeared on the big screen. The DVD includes little in the way of extras beyond commentary tracks by producer Lindsay Doran, writer Scott Frank, and director-star Kenneth Branagh--and these are as hit-and-miss as commentary tracks usually are, but they hit more often than miss. The picture and sound quality is overall very good. Recommended!
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on February 21, 2000
In the Hollywood world of the same plots and stories, this film always stands to the side as an original. At the time of this film's release, the idea of past lives, Karma, and reincarnation had not yet been beaten to I found it to be very entertaining, and a film I still watch from time to time on a rainy afternoon.
An interesting story that captures you from the beginning and leaves you guessing "Who Done It?" all the way to the end. The reviewers who deem this worthy of Hitchcock are absolutely correct!
Both Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson are fabulous in this film...the chemistry between them is undeniable. Such a shame that it didn't work out for them in real life. This was a departure from the traditional Shakespearean roles that Branagh plays, however, his character in this film(as is Thompson's)is one you can warm up to immediately. The imagery and flashbacks to the 1940's are can tell that they were well orchestrated and are delivered with class. The film has a completely engrossing storyline as many angles to absorb, so many possible endings pop into your head that the true ending is a surprise.
Wonderful performances by Derek Jacobi...he is tastily diabolical in this, as well as Andy Garcia (as the jaded reporter) and Robin Williams.
Even the most die hard hecklers of past lives theories and Karma can't help but enjoy this film...a very believable, entertaining film that you'll want to see more than once!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 3, 2005
This is one of the best murder mysteries to come out of the Nineties, and probably for some time before or since. It's Hitchcockian without being an homage. Mike Church, a private detective in Los Angeles, is called on to try to identify a young woman (Emma Thompson), given the name Grace by the Catholic order which took her in, who at first is mute. Gradually, and with the help of an antiques dealer who is a talented hypnotist (Derek Jacobi), she begins to speak and identify herself with a woman, Margaret Straus, who was murdered shortly after WWII in Los Angeles by her husband, Roman. Roman Straus was a famous composer/conducter, an imigre from Germany whose life was saved by his now housekeeper (Hanna Schygulla), who has a young son.

Roman and Margaret Straus are played in black and white flashback by Branagh and Thompson. And while Roman was executed for stabbing his wife to death with a pair of scissors, he maintained his innocence. The motive was said to be jealousy, driven by the obvious love a reporter, Gray Baker (Andy Garcia), had for Margaret.

In trying to find the sources of Grace's distress, Mike finds some issues of his own. And he finally identifies the real murderer who is still alive and dangerous.

Yes, the story is complicated, but Branagh tells it in a clear, straight-forward manner which also requires the viewer to stay alert. He uses big film-making gestures, including great camera angles and lighting. And just as effectively, he uses some wit and humor as the story unfolds.

The cast is uniformly first-rate, including a best-friend part by Wayne Knight and a small but effective cameo by Robin Williams. One scene cleverly acted between Church and an aged, sick Gray Baker should put you off cigarette smoking.

I think this is one fine movie, and I hope it doesn't become forgotten.
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on June 19, 2003
Dead Again is a brilliant psychological thriller! It's riveting and breathtakingly suspenseful from start to finish, directed with style by Kenneth Branagh. Many imaginative homages to Hitchock--and this is as good as anything the master has directed. Branagh fashions a fascinating puzzle that contains its share of action, romance, dry wit, and (of course) twists & turns. And, unlike most thrillers, there's a distinct element of unpredictability to the latter.
Dead Again is a tale of parallel stories in different time frames. The first, which transpires in post-World War II Los Angeles and is presented entirely through black-and-white flashbacks, relates the tragic romance of Roman and Margaret Strauss (Branagh and his then-wife, Emma Thompson). Roman, a German expatriate, is a world-famous composer and conductor, and Margaret, a Brit relocated to North America, is an up-and-coming musician. They meet when Roman conducts Margaret's orchestra, and it's love at first sight. They are soon married, but their fairytale existence begins to fray. Margaret is suspicious that Roman's housekeeper, Inga (Hanna Schygulla), and her son, Frankie (Gregor Hesse), may be stealing from Roman. He, in turn, is wary of her relationship with a reporter named Gray Baker (Andy Garcia), who appears to be exceeding the bounds of friendly propriety. This all leads to murder (I'm not giving anything away here, since this is revealed during an opening montage of newspaper clippings). Margaret is stabbed to death using a pair of scissors, an expensive anklet is stolen, and Roman is arrested and convicted. He goes to the electric chair claiming to be innocent.
The other part of the story occurs in 1991 Los Angeles, where a solitary private investigator, Mike Church (Branagh), has been requested by a local priest to uncover the identity of a pretty woman (Thompson) who has lost her voice and her memory. (She is given the faux name of Grace.) Mike's friend, newspaper man Pete (Wayne Knight), puts her photograph in the local paper, and the only respondent is a hypnotist/junk dealer named Franklyn Madison (Derek Jacobi), who believes that a trauma from the woman's past life may be causing her mute amnesia. He puts "Grace" under, and she begins to see visions from Roman and Margaret's life. She regains her voice, but not her memory, and, as she and Mike grow closer, she cannot avoid noticing similarities between their relationship and that of Roman and Margaret. As she looks more deeply into the past, she begins to fear Mike, sensing that he could be Roman re-incarnated and that the murder of 45 years ago may be about to happen again. Then, when Mike agrees to be hypnotized, he uncovers a startling secret.
Although Dead Again's story is complicated, Branagh presents it in a clear, straightforward manner that leaves little room for confusion. Each of the plot twists is exposed with suitable buildup, maintaining viewer interest. The characters, both past and present, are remarkably well-developed, and there is a legitimate sense of uncertainty concerning Roman's guilt. He may have gone to the electric chair for Margaret's murder, but did he really commit the deed? Branagh keeps us guessing until the plot demands the disclosure of the truth. When it comes to interweaving the two stories and offering a fulfilling resolution, Branagh and screenwriter Scott Frank do not disappoint us.
This definitely stands out as one of the most intriguing and memorable thrillers of the 1990s. My heart nearly stopped beating during the very intense finale.All in all, a wonderful flick - highly entertaining and intriguing; a great throwback to film noir with a kicky karmic twist. Recommended!
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on May 22, 2001
"Dead Again" was penned by Scott Frank ("Get Shorty", "Out of Sight") and is a perfect combination of comedy (which is often hidden, but very hilarious when you find it) and suspense.
The story involves Mike Church (Kenneth Branagh who also directs) who is asked to find out the identity of a woman who cannot talk ("Grace"--Ken's former wife Emma Thompson).
The story takes a little while to get started, but once it does, it is worth it as Grace gets regressed into a past life by a hypnotist (Derek Jacobi). The film has many plot twists and is all-around plain fun as things begin to unravel.
Also included on this DVD is a full-length feature commentary by Kenneth Branagh which is informative, but not so interesting. There is another commentary by writer Scott Frank and Producer Lindsay Doran which is also informative, but because of the chemistry between the two, it is humorous.
I think that anyone who enjoys the idea of Karma, good acting, Hitchcockian films, or Kenneth Branagh will enjoy this film.
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on January 19, 2002
What can I say about this movie? Not enough, for I consistently find it on my top 25 of all time (who can narrow their favorites down to just a few? I can't.)
Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson are magnificent in their dual roles. Derek Jakobi is, as usual brilliant.
The story keeps you guessing, with twists and turns that would make the great Hitchcock proud. If you love a good suspense/mystery movie, get this one!
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VINE VOICEon January 31, 2006
No, Kenneth Branagh was not arguing his British heritage, he's trying to convince amnesia victim Emma Thompson that he is not the reincarnation of her former life husband who is trying to kill her. The supernatural meets Hitchcock meets American classic film noir, and Kenneth Branagh managed to complete this gear shifting, classy film for it's day. It got great reviews in 1991, it's still considered to be top notch 15 years later (judging by all these reviews.) With a super cast: Andy Garcia, Thompson and Branagh, Wayne Knight, Campbell Scott, Robin Williams (in a scene stealing performance) and veteran foreign actress, Hanna Schygulla, who plays a small but key role. Branagh, actually doesn't play a Brit either, he plays two roles: the quirky American private eye, Mike Church, and the overbearing, German composer/conductor husband, Roman Strauss.

It was a real change of pace from the Die Hard type thrillers that were being hammered out at that time, but it was a welcome change. When I originally saw it back then, I could tell that although different, I was definitely watching something special.

Branagh, hot off the success of his first film, Henry V, where he was director and star, he managed to pull off this gem of a thriller, again taking both director and lead actor roles. It proves that he is one talented fellow, and his former wife does an even better job perfecting her American accent. Emma Thompson is radiant in both roles, one set in the past and her supposedly reincarnated self in the future.

Not a fast paced thriller, but it has it's moments, and the twist ending is really juicy. I also liked the visuals and cinematography, especially in the black and white sequences. It had a simple, but stylish look, which I think makes it hold up very well today. One of the best films of the early 90's.
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While this film may not make total sense to its viewer because it is steeped in fast talk and moves quickly to advance its plot, in many ways it is reminiscent of the great stuff that sudios like Warner Bros. cranked out in the forties and quite often starred the likes of Humphrey Bogart or John Garfield.
This film flips between a modern day Los Angeles and Los Angeles of the late '40's. The theme here is supressed memories from another life that ended in murder and using the memories to solve the long closed cold case. Added into the mix is amnesia, a shifty art dealer played by Derek Jacobi, and a love story that travels from the past to the present and then back again.
This was the american film debut of the acting tour de force of the '90's, Kenneth Brannaugh and Emma Thompson. Unfortunately, they subsequently divorced and haven't been professionally paired since their parting, but this is a taut and suspenseful film that nicely displays Brannaugh's talent for accents and Thompson's emotional versatility and neatly illustrates how they got their highly esteemed reputation as an acting couple.
Much as I liked the script and the acting, I loved the way Los Angeles was used as a large and expansive movie set. Enhanced by the vintage cars of the '40's and the wonderful real estate, the script the cinematography, and the acting were merged to create a thriller that kept my attention from start to finish.
I first saw this film in the theater when it was released, and watch it periodically on dvd. I still enjoy it as much as I did after my first viewing. I think it has held up very well and is as enjoyable to me as any of my favorite films of the '40's.
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I first saw this film in the theater and I was half way through before I realized that Kenneth Branaugh was playing two male parts. Others have complained of his accent but it sounds right to me for a 1990s Los Angeles character. The plot, briefly, is that a mystery woman appears in a west Los Angeles orphanage with amnesia. She is having nightmares and does not know who she is. The priest calls a private detective who grew up in that orphanage and who he knows will do an identity search for free for the orphanage. He starts to take her to the LA County psych ward (No longer there) but a nightmarish scene there convinces him to take her home while he searches for her identity. Robin Williams plays an interesting role as a disgraced psychiatrist working in a meat market. He has some serious advice for Mike, the Branaugh character, Derek Jacobi plays a charming villain and the story has twists and turns that startle the audience. It is very well done. Andy Garcia plays a reporter who basically tells the story which has two setting, one in 1948. It is one of my favorite movies. It has a theme of reincarnation and is a love story.
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