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!