Johnny Depp is trending again, but unfortunately not for anything good. I'm not going to repeat any allegations here; if you're interested in that, I'm sure you can find plenty of gossip on other sites. Here, I separate the artist from the art. My Johnny Depp project continues here with the 1996 Jim Jarmusch post-western movie, Dead Man.
Dead Man was not well-received in the 1990s. Roger Ebert wrote, "Jim Jarmusch is trying to get at something here, and I don't have a clue what it is." It has since become something of a cult film due to the rising stars of both Depp and Jarmusch, but is it any good? I'll delve into the pros and cons here.
There's lots to like about this movie, it's not the horrid mess that the critics dubbed it in 1996.
- The set up. I don't really want to spoil it, but the inciting incident was unexpected and well-constructed. It was a very clever twist on many western tropes, a fact which has caused film fans to call this movie a "post-western." After an excruciatingly long opening travel scene, the inciting incident kicked the movie into gear and fully invested me in the plot. (Unfortunately, it didn't really go anywhere.)
- The humor. This movie was a lot funnier than I expected it to be. A couple lines had me laughing out loud. Be warned: the humor is very dark, and often about rape and murder. If you're not a fan of black comedy you may not get it. However, the more twisted of my readers will probably dig it.
- The cast and the cast of characters. I saved the best for last. Everyone in this movie is fabulous, even though most roles are bit parts that only last for a few minutes. My favorite character was Nobody, William Blake (Johnny Depp)'s spirit/travel guide. (Pictured above.) Almost every block of his dialogue ended with a funny quip, and you really believed this character as an outcast to his tribe. Some notable cameos belong to John Hurt as an ornery office manager, Iggy Pop as a cross-dressing Bible-quoting rapist, and Alfred Molina as a racist, overly nice trading post clerk. There are many more, but these stuck out as the best.
In general, I liked this movie. But I didn't love it. It started slow, then the plot-triggering event happened and it got really good, but then I lost interest as the plot petered out slowly, ending in a whimper.
- The pacing. This movie is SLOW. It's only two hours long, but it felt like three. There were moments of excitement sprinkled throughout, but most of the movie is just walking or riding a horse to an unknown destination.
- The soundtrack. Neil Young is a fine musician, but I don't think his style of guitar rock fit in the larger tone of this movie. It was especially unbearable near the end where the film faded out every thirty seconds to what sounded like Young just giving up.
- The editing. The movie was cut to be very episodic. There are probably more fade-in/fade-outs in this movie than in any other movie I've seen. It got predictable and a bit dull. Coupled with the distracting Neil Young ambient guitar noise, I was anxious for it to end. Maybe I just missed it, but one of the assassins just disappeared from the movie with no resolution. Was this an editing mistake? Or did I miss something?
- The resolution. I think I may have liked this movie better if I was more familiar with William Blake's writings. Apparently, the ending is supposed to be a reflection of the poet's themes. To a William Blake novice, I didn't get it, and it seemed very anti-climactic.
As I mentioned, I generally liked the movie. However, it was a bit too slow for me to really recommend it to anyone other than fans of indie and avant-garde film. I think the general public will find it off-putting, slow, and confusing.
Story: ★★½ of 5
Music: ★½ of 5
Comedy: ★★★½ of 5
Visuals: ★★½ of 5
Overall: ★★★ of 5
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