Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dead Again

Jeez, I mention I've never watched anything with Kenneth Branagh other than Hamlet, and the next thing I know, I'm watching a movie about solving a decades old murder through the power of hypnosis and past lives.

Dead Again splits its time between the late 1940s, where composer Roman Strauss (Branagh) was executed for killing his wife Margaret (Emma Thompson). In the present (the late '80s), we have a woman (also played by Thompson) with no memory of who she is, but terrified nightly by dreams about Roman stabbing someone with scissors. The Catholic Church/orphanage, demonstrating its legendary compassion, refuses to let the obviously confused and terrified woman stay, but hey, they do contact private investigator Mike Smith (also played by Branagh, which I didn't realize until I looked at the credits) to help her out. So she winds up staying at his apartment, and shortly an antiquities dealer who claims to know hypnosis shows up to help "Grace" (as Mike dubbed her), by regressing her until she regains her memories. Except he regresses her back to a past life in the Strausses. Then her memories suggest Mike is also involved in the Strauss thing somehow, threatening their burgeoning sexual chemistry. Oh noes!

Mocking aside, the movie is actually pretty good. Andy Garcia plays a reporter in the '40s, who manages to have a certain charm despite his stubble and somewhat boozy demeanor. Wayne Knight plays a buddy of Mike's who works in the newspapers. All his "S" sounds come off like a tea kettle, though, which is annoying, but it's consistent, so I have to think it's a deliberate choice. And he's an empathetic enough character I don't hold it against him. A bit of pig, but in a nice way. Dr. Carlisle is a former psychologist who lost his license, and they don't mention the actor in the opening credits. So he was a surprise, but it works. Bitter, jaded, but still with enough scientific curiosity to want to help. Branagh must have done a good job carrying himself as two different characters since I didn't even recognize him. Or else it was how immaculately done up his facial hair was as Strauss that threw me off. Mike is clean shaven and his hair is a bit disheveled.

The movie has some nicely shot scenes, and some that are terribly overdone. One of the nice ones is when the hypnotist is urging "Grace" to take a firearm as protection from Mike, while Pete (Wayne Knight) protests that Mike would never hurt her (it's also an argument about a predetermined universe versus one where free will exists). The camera switches from looking over one of her shoulders to the other when looking at either of the two standing in front of her, so it suggests the little angels and devils on her shoulder. It just isn't clear which is which.

On the other hand, the climax scene is completely overboard. They go nuts with switching between the action in the present, to the moment of the murder in the past, with a lot of slow motion leaping around in the present day, and piano music from the opera Strauss was composing playing throughout. The film is trying to suggest this a pivot point, where even with all the same players as last time, things could go different. But all the slow-motion just wrecks it. Maybe people have a hard time not looking silly in slo-mo. Gives the audience more time to notice some of the more peculiar expressions we make.

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