Dead Again
(United States, 1991)

After wowing critics with Henry V, Kenneth Branagh went on to make his homage to Hitchcock and film noir, Dead Again. And, although it's not a perfect movie, it's damn close, and there hasn't been a thriller of this sort to come out since then that I have liked more. The Silence of the Lambs may have captured the Oscar for 1991 releases, but I have always believed Dead Again to be superior in many ways. Of the films on Branagh's directorial resume, I would rate this as his second best, behind only Hamlet. Dead Again is one of the movies that turned me into a film critic. After arriving home from a theater after seeing the picture on a balmy 1991 summer afternoon, I experienced a forceful urge to write about it. Thoughts chased each other 'round and 'round in my head. I was energized. I knew I had seen something I would never forget. It was nearly ten years before some of those ideas would make it onto paper, but a spark of inspiration had been struck. Within five months, I would write my first review. Dead Again contains two twists, one of which is guessable and the other of which is not. Both of them surprised me (although, today, nearly 3000 movies later, I'm not sure the more conventional one would). It doesn't talk down to its audience, either - I know at least one person who didn't get one of the twists until I explained it to her. In the years since I saw the film in a multiplex, I have watched Dead Again at least a dozen times, and I never tire of it. If you've never seen it, treat yourself. And if you have, go back again.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
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. 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.

Dead Again, director Kenneth Branagh's second effort behind the camera, is an Alfred Hitchcock homage - and a very good one, at that. Unlike most modern nods to the master filmmaker, Dead Again does not come across as a Hitchcock knock-off, but as a motion picture that incorporates familiar themes and approaches while maintaining its own integrity and identity. Over the course of 107 minutes, 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. High points and shock revelations are interspersed with exposition, and the characters are not permitted to degenerate into walking clichés. Dead Again moves at a fast enough pace to keep us engaged and interested, but never threatens to lose us in a whirl of confusion and irrelevant detail. Branagh has combined numerous cinematic elements into an achievement that rivals Hitchcock's best work and stands out as one of the most intriguing and memorable thrillers of the 1990s.

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