Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dead Man: Where Have You Gone William Blake?

The Good: Well-shot, Acting, Moments, Soundtrack
The Bad: Characters, Purpose, Back of the DVD says more than the film
The Basics: Slow, ponderous and pointless, Dead Man is a well-shot film that lacks a real story and direction.

As frequent readers of my reviews will note, I have to be in a mood for black and white films or else I will be instantly prejudiced against it. Not so much with older films, but certainly with films released these days. Black and white is a medium that can be artful, but often is pretentious. This morning, I was in the mood for black and white, so I sat down to Dead Man. The short verdict: I'm not adding it to my permanent collection, though I did not hate the movie.

Dead Man tells the story of William Blake, a man on the run in the Old West. As far as that goes, this is probably the slowest chase film ever produced. Blake goes through an excruciatingly long journey from Cleveland to the West (much of which we see - the first five minutes of the film are comprised of Blake on the train sitting and going in and out of consciousness and boredom on his trip to the West) where he finds the job he was relocating for has been given to another person. So, he goes to bed with a local woman, wakes up to find her ex-lover entering the room, a gunfight ensues and Blake, wounded, leaves town on another man's horse. This leads him to Nobody, a native who heals him. It also sets bounty hunters on his tracks and they are led by Cole, a murderous, ruthless man with no morals. Nobody leads Blake with the goal of returning him to the dead (mistaking this Blake for the classic poet William Blake) while Cole hunts relentlessly with the goal to kill Blake.

The back of the DVD says that the film is about Nobody teaching Blake to face the dangers of being a pursued man, but the film never does that. In fact, the purpose of Dead Man is more than a little lacking. The characters are ill-defined or uninteresting. Blake's acceptance of Nobody in his life is unquestioned, Nobody's reasons for aiding Blake are likewise unexplored. In fact, the only character that makes real sense in the flick is Cole. He's a bloodthirsty (literally) psychopath and he remains true to that throughout.

Unfortunately, that also ruins the surprises that accompany traveling with Cole. That his counterparts meet fates undesirable is unsurprising given his characterization.

What is not lacking is the acting. Despite exceptional flaws in plot and character, Johnny Depp gives an excellent performance as Blake. It's a shame the best dialog he's given comes so close to the end. Lance Henriksen plays Cole with brutal, wonderful efficiency. Robert Mitchum's appearances in the film are too brief. The real kudos, however, goes to Gary Farmer, who plays Nobody. Nobody is easy to watch as a result and that makes a huge difference in the film. Had it not been for his performance, the film would have been sunk entirely.

As it is, the film remains barely afloat. The soundtrack is entirely guitar music and that works well. The film certainly has atmosphere. Alas, the atmosphere is "slow" and "dead." This does not inspire one to watch it more than once as the mood is somewhat oppressive in points.

On DVD, the presentation is improved some with deletes scenes (though some of them deserved to be cut), a music video and the film's trailer. This adds only a little added value to the film and I found myself wishing there had been a commentary track.

I suppose Dead Man could simply be a tale of one man's morally ambiguous quest into death, but if that's it, the story is only confused by the whole Cole plot. Whatever the film was, it wasn't thoroughly unpleasant to watch, but I'll never sit through it again. I would recommend this one only when you've exhausted everything else in your library.

For other films featuring Johnny Depp, please visit my reviews of:
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Tourist
Alice In Wonderland
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Corpse Bride
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Edward Scissorhands


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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