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William Blake, a young man in search of a fresh start, embarks on an exciting journey to a new town...never realizing the danger that lies ahead. But when a heated love triangle ends in double murder, Blake finds himself a wanted man, running scared -- until a mysterious loner teaches him to face the dangers that follow a "dead man."
For more about Dead Man and the Dead Man Blu-ray release, see Dead Man Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 14, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, Crispin Glover, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byrd
» See full cast & crew
Dead Man Blu-ray Review
It's different, and different is good in today's world of production line cinema.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 14, 2011
He who talks loud saying nothing.
Director Jim Jarmusch's 1995 picture Dead Man has been described as a "psychedelic Western." Upon casual inspection, it doesn't appear quite as experimental, trippy, or off-the-beaten-path as that descriptor might suggest, but it's certainly a far cry from traditional genre pictures of either yesteryear or today. The film demonstrates an uncanny ability to tell a traditional story -- one of the hunter and the hunted -- where the main character is perceived as the hero to all in the audience but as the villain to most of the characters in the movie, and sometimes vice versa. It's the most obvious off-kilter element of Jim Jarmusch's fictional Western world where up seems down, left seems right, bad seems good, good seems bad, and the journey is one more of personal degradation rather than some means towards a new plane of self-understanding and an emotionally and spiritually higher existence, giving it, perhaps, a more realistically-driven feel than would a fairy tale disguised as something else, which so many of these sorts of movies seem to be. In many ways, then, despite its rather straightforward plot -- not to mention black-and-white photography, barely-recognizable actors, and scenes and dialogue of vastly unique styles and taste -- the film is akin to something along the lines of a traditional genre picture heavily influenced by and blended with many external elements both superficial and deep within the visuals, script, and performances that ultimately alter one's perception of the movie and provide what might be considered a richer, more realistic human experience. Or, it could be considered a bastardization of the Western's good name. Who's to say?
William Blake (Johnny Depp) has set out by train from Cleveland to the end-of-the-line Western frontier town called Machine where he's been offered a job as Dickinson Metalworks's accountant. Unfortunately, he's arrived too late. His offer letter is two months old, and the company has already hired a portly replacement. Blake, who has spent every last cent to his name to travel cross-country for the job, is left out in the cold; even company head honcho Mr. Dickinson (Robert Mitchum) is unsympathetic to Blake's plight. The Cleveland native finds comfort in the company of a woman, but it turns out she's to marry Mr. Dickinson's son Charlie (Gabriel Byrne). An enraged Charlie pulls a gun, killing his fiancé and wounding Blake, who in turn shoots and kills Charlie. Now, Blake finds himself on the run from three of the West's most talented mercenaries, including the deviously cunning and sadistic Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen). Blake stumbles upon a sympathetic Native American who goes by the name of "Nobody" (Gary Farmer). Believing Blake to be the famed poet of the same name, Nobody takes the fugitive under his wing and promises to lead him to a place of spiritual comfort.
To claim that Dead Man makes perfect sense upon initial viewing would be a lie. Sure the film's basic structure is easy enough to understand, but Jim Jarmusch has placed so many layers within his film that can only be peeled back one or two at a time that the picture gains both complexity and uncertainty the more audiences dig through it. The picture's combination of black and white photography and a Westward expansion-era setting disconcertingly and sharply contrast with several elements, Neil Young's hypnotic guitar score perhaps chief amongst them. But that's only the superficial qualities. The picture is one of great complexity in terms of its adherence to the spiritual underpinnings that accompany it. The picture is as much a soulful, inward journey as it is a physical, outward journey. It's the story of a man changed by circumstance and influenced by the world in which he finds himself, both the rugged, no nonsense, violent-tendencies structure of the Western frontier land, and the teachings, guidance, and mannerisms of Blake's Native American companion, Nobody. Blake's many transformations both immediate and gradual, for both good and bad, is at the center of the film, and while it's not always clear what drives him, what pauses him, what changes him, and what leads him to his fate, there's no doubt it's one heck of a story and well worth taking the time to peel back each layer to discover what lies beneath.
Of course, there's a fine support structure that helps define and reinforce both the picture's overriding generalities and its undercover subtleties alike. Superficially, the picture is easy-breezy fun, a fine watch that handles its array of interesting characters extraordinarily well. They enjoy superb development both obvious and less so, whether through dialogue or action, both of which may be either fascinating or nauseating. The cast is polished but practically unrecognizable outside of Johnny Depp. Watching the cast roster go by during the opening credits is like taking a stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame; Jarmusch's assembled cast is practically legendary, with each actor delivering a nuanced performance -- from the oddball boss man played by Robert Mitchum all the way down to the racist "Christian" peddler portrayed by Alfred Molina -- that do a fine job of both revealing and hiding the picture's intricate layers. It all revolves around Depp's performance, though. An actor with an uncanny ability to land roles that ask of him to portray grossly out-of-the-ordinary characters, he embraces the opportunity to play an innocent man who discovers the realities of life and those within his own essence -- or at least those realities that stem from a man caught up in his unique circumstances -- as he journeys away from danger and evil and unwittingly straight into it as his fate seals up a little bit tighter with every step he takes.
Dead Man Blu-ray, Video Quality
Dead Man's 1080p transfer might represent Echo Bridge's finest Miramax release yet. The picture's black-and-white imagery translates quite well to Blu-ray. Heavy grain retention is positive and offers a boost to the stability, detailing, and filmic sensation the transfer provides. Fine detail is quite good and, just as important, steadily high throughout. Despite a few softer shots, the image boasts strong texturing in faces, clothes, the interior of the train, the sweaty-hot metallurgy facility, and the many natural outdoor scenes. Shading is strong and blacks are solid. The image doesn't suffer through too many speckles or scratches, but there is a stray vertical line that appears from time to time on the lefthand side of the screen. Otherwise, this one's in very good shape and makes for a satisfying black and white 1080p viewing experience.
Dead Man Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Dead Man's DTS-HD MA 2.0 lossless soundtrack has some problems, but it delivers a fairly consistent and comfortable listen. There's a fair amount of energy in the early scenes featuring the train rumbling across the front of the soundstage. Interior train sequences also handle the hushed rattle of the locomotive speeding down the tracks with fair precision. The heavy low end that accompanies the loud din at the metalworks plant is halfway convincing, too; while it comes across at first as simply a wall of sound, listeners will be able to differentiate between rattling chains, blowing steam, and the rumble of heavy equipment. Music delivery is fair, a touch sloppy and absent exceptional clarity, but strong enough to get the job done. Dialogue is the track's primary sore spot, however; it's terribly unbalanced and tinny as it sometimes plays far off to the side of the soundstage rather than centered around the middle. The effect makes the track borderline unlistenable at times, but fortunately it's not a constant problem.
Dead Man Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Dead Man features only a collection of deleted scenes (480p, 15:54) and a music video (480p, 3:31).
Dead Man Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Dead Man isn't a picture that mass audiences are going to enjoy. It's an artsy, far-off-the-beaten-path sort of venture that's both extraordinarily complex yet superficially simple at the same time. It's about as far from traditional Westerns as a picture can be while still clinging to some of the hallmarks that make that genre what it is. It requires thought, patience, and multiple viewings to grasp at least part of what Director Jim Jarmusch is trying to say, and it's that complexity of its soulful journey and insight into the challenges that come to test a simple and otherwise good man's soul that makes it such a fascinating picture. Echo Bridge's Blu-ray release of Dead Man features fairly strong video, a flawed but passable lossless soundtrack, and a couple of extras. Recommended.
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