Dead Again

(Kenneth Branagh, USA, 1991)


Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again walks the fine line between a Moonlighting-style parody of old movies and an involving contemporary thriller surprisingly well. Its central premise – which Sigmund Freud would have gladly called uncanny – derives from Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo (1958).

Private detective Mike Church (Branagh) is given charge of a scared, mute, amnesiac woman, Grace (Emma Thompson). Aided by a hypnotist (Derek Jacobi), Church is led to the bizarre but unavoidable hypothesis that Grace is the reincarnation of Margaret Strauss, a woman seemingly murdered by her crazed, classical pianist husband Roman. Elaborate flashbacks give Branagh and Thompson the chance to play double roles.

Since Hitchcock played with it in the ’50s, reincarnation has become a widespread, almost Pop idea. Dead Again, ingeniously scripted by Scott Frank, is full of characters who earnestly speculate on such extravagant notions as "karmic payback" (someone you killed in a past life exacting revenge in all your future lives) and the possibility that couples will always end up together in whatever incarnation – even if they have swapped genders.

Naturally, Branagh-as-director surrounds such ideas with much irony – not to mention the possibility that the whole plot may be an elaborate hoax. The film’s great strength is in letting us enjoy the thrills and the grand romance of the premise, while also seeing the whole affair as a clever, tongue-in-cheek joke.

Such a balancing act is rare in contemporary movie entertainment. And in Branagh’s generally underwhelming directorial career, this film is a definite highlight.

MORE Branagh: Peter’s Friends

© Adrian Martin March 1992

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search