Dead Man- A review by Nate Hill

Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man is a truly one of a kind film, a film that I have been entranced for over a decade by, and constantly revisit it’s haunting beauty, poetic absurdities and stark, gorgeous black and white cinematography (holla to Robby Muller). Johnny Depp basically plays a meek, downtrodden east coast boy mired in a wild, violent and confusing journey through a western outpost town and after a love triangle ends in murder, possibly his own, he embarks on a strange, spiritual walk through a Pacific Northwest netherworld of pine trees, outlaw bounty hunters, and oddball characters, led by a Native named Nobody (the excellent Gary Farmer). Is he dead? Was he even there to begin with? Jarmusch abandons logic for an expressionist approach, and the film ends up as a hypnotic tone poem and visual palette of events that don’t really make sense, and may frustrate some. But to those open to its idiosyncratic writing and determined, enigmatic style, oh what a film it is. The cast is absolutely to die for. Depp is incredible in the best performance of his extremely uneven career. The character arc he inhabits here is wonderful, taking a feeble, checkered suited mess of a man and morphing him into a ghostly, predatorial, terrifying wilderness archetypal bandit, a force of nature among the trees and mountains. Haunted eyes, quick draw kill streak, moody contemplation, it really is his finest work. Michael Wincott steals his scenes as a chatty assassin and Lance Henriksen is scary as hell, playing a hired killer who “fucked his parents, then cooked them up and ate them.” (Don’t ask, just go with the film’s demented flow). Gabriel Byrne, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Mitchum, Milli Avital, John Hurt and an especially weird Crispin Glover all nail their cameos, and Neil Young’s beautiful, melodic, elemental score is the beating heart of the film. Dead Man isn’t a traditional film in any sense, and in fact seems to take place in a cliché free, bizarro alternate western dream universe where the rules don’t apply, but all the beauty, mysticism and rugged frontier intrigue of the genre still remain. Fine with me. One of my all time favourites.

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